News: CJTF Paladin's Unique UK Partnership
Story by Erica Fouche
BAGRAM AIR FIELD – Among its diverse personnel roster, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin's two permanent UK billets help facilitate constant communication between Paladin and UK Defence Intelligence leadership on critical EOD matters.
Combined Joint Task Force Paladin maintains a diverse U.S. personnel roster, but has a long history of working directly with NATO partners, from one country in particular. Of Paladin’s 1,300 sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilians deployed throughout Afghanistan, there are only two British Army Ammunition Technical Officers embedded in the entire unit.
Lt. Col. Malcolm Hook and Capt. Lisa Brown may hail from different parts of England, but they are united in their service to the Queen and appreciate having a fellow Brit in the unit to serve alongside and with whom to take the occasional afternoon tea. “Although Britain has the second largest NATO presence in Afghanistan, the majority of its footprint is in Helmand,” said Hook. “All in all there’s only about five of us here on Bagram so yes, it’s nice seeing a familiar uniform and someone to have a chinwag with about home.”
When not chin wagging, Hook, Paladin’s UK Deputy Commander, oversees its Counter-Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) training and partnership unit, and Brown serves as the Theater Exploitation Team’s second-in-command and its British C-IED subject matter expert.
Paladin units work closely with international Explosive Ordnance Device (EOD) teams on a daily basis, from facilitating various C-IED trainings to teaching new biometrics and forensic collection methods, but having the permanent UK billets has allowed Paladin and the UK to maintain a constant flow of communication that may not otherwise be possible. “Being a part of Paladin allows us to have a full view of IED developments and both friendly and enemy tactics, techniques and procedures throughout Afghanistan, not just in our specific province and that’s actually quite rare,” said Brown. “Since we have this capability, we also have the responsibility to reach back to UK’s Defence Intelligence to share this information and serve as a liaison in that capacity.”
“It truly is a great opportunity for us both,” said Hook. “Both U.S. and UK intelligence and EOD communities have seen the vast benefits of information sharing, and ensuring that process of collaboration between our nations continues to operate and improve over time, is something we take great pride in.”
Deployments alone come with their own set of challenges and hardships, particularly the extended time away from loved ones and living everyday in a combat zone, but to be embedded with international partners also poses its own set of difficulties. “Anytime two organizations work together you’re going to deal with different processes, ways of doing things and different organizational structures,” said Hook. “But other than learning the intricacies of the U.S. intelligence structure and getting used to the new acronyms and definitions, we’ve found that the differences are nowhere near as great as people may think. It’s the same mission and the same priorities, so what challenges there were, have not been too difficult to overcome.”
“We both voluntarily deployed and we’ve both been working within the ammunition and EOD specialization for the majority of our careers, so it really was just learning the Paladin-way,” said Brown. “What helped make the adjustment even easier is the way we’ve been welcomed by U.S. service members. From day one we’ve been treated as one of the team and I’ve just relished in the opportunity to gain U.S. friendships that I originally hadn’t imagined would be possible.”
While Brown may very well have another opportunity to deploy with the British Army and even work with U.S. service members again, this is Hook’s final assignment as a British soldier. “I began as an Army Cadet when I was 13, enlisted at 17 and after a 38-year active service career wearing the uniform, I’ll retire at the end of this tour,” said Hook. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a Soldier and I could not imagine a better way to end my career than serving with the C-IED brigade in theatre. To be alongside the Paladin team and involved in the C-IED fight will ensure my career ends involved in the familiar business in which it began all those years ago. The final trip home will definitely be bittersweet but it’s been a great ride.”
Even though she knows her next assignment, an important part of Brown’s future is still unpredictable. “My husband is also serving in the British Army, and he’s actually gearing up to deploy to Helmand before my deployment here is complete, and we don’t know where he’ll get assigned to next.” It’s a hefty sacrifice, but it’s one she and many like her make every day. “My military service to the UK is very important to me. My father was a chief warrant officer in the Royal Navy but was never able to receive a commission. When he passed away nine years ago, I decided to fulfill his dream by commissioning into the British Army.”
The support Hook and Brown provide to CJTF Paladin has only reinforced the importance of international partnerships and how if NATO hopes to keep its 2014 withdrawal deadline, it will require a combined effort. Even after both Hook and Brown end their tours, their permanent billets will ensure that throughout the remaining duration of NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, Paladin will have a direct line of communication with the British Army and vice versa. “People often say that the United States and Great Britain are two nations separated by a single language, but in this case at least there is no separation, only unity, and the exchange of knowledge and technological capabilities will not only make us better partners, but it’ll help us all complete the mission in Afghanistan more effectively, whilst continuing to protect the lives of our service personnel and our Afghan partners.”
CJTF Paladin is responsible for all coalition counter-IED operations and training in Afghanistan.