News: JRTC offers realistic training scenarios to SFATs prior to deployment
Story by Sgt. Richard Andrade
FORT POLK, La. – As the Saturday morning sun rises, Afghans trickle into a coffee shop, stores begin to open for business, police officers prepare to start their shift, when suddenly an explosion breaks the silence. A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonates outside an Afghan Uniformed Police station. Machine-gun fire echoes through the buildings as the Afghan Uniformed Police immediately react and get in defensive positions throughout the police station.
This scenario is just one of many realistic training exercises held at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, La.
Security Force Assistance Teams from various brigade combat teams at the JRTC train to mentor their Afghan National Security Forces counterparts. The training at JRTC includes several situational training exercises culminating with a six-day scenario replicating the Afghanistan mission. The most important part of the training is for U.S. forces to keep their Afghan counterparts in the lead and develop a system that works.
“Our sole mission is to put the Afghan police in front and ensure that the people know that they have a secure environment,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ceburn Gilliam, of Little Rock, Ark., assigned to the 188th Infantry Brigade, First Army, Division East, based out of Fort Stewart, Ga.
One of the many aspects of the SFAT training at JRTC is the use of actual Afghan civilians and replicated cities offering the most realistic training scenarios.
“The ability to work with actual Afghans has been a significant help,” said Gilliam.
The training lanes are meant to be as realistic as possible with cultural role-players acting as Afghan officials, soldiers, police officers and villagers making.
During his team’s training at JRTC, Gilliam said his role will be to mentor the Afghan Uniformed Police and enhance their policing skills so together they can secure the province the best they can.
The SFAT teams will be made up of leaders from different backgrounds including field artillery, infantry, communications, logistics, and engineers. The teams will not just be made of military elements; some will include military contractors or civilians.
“The SFAT training is awesome, it gives us the realism that we need,” said Maj. Kendell Robinson, of Fayetteville, N.C., 188th Inf. Bde., First Army, Division East, based out of Fort Stewart, Ga.
Robinson said the training scenarios have allowed his team to see some real-world obstacles they have to prepare for once deployed. One of the challenges his team had to overcome was the language barrier. Communicating with their Afghan counterparts is facilitated with the use of interpreters.
“It causes us to take a more critical look and kind of slow down our training process, so when we get to executing [a mission] with our partners; it is more of a synchronized effort,” said Robinson.
After the SFAT teams finish with a training scenario, they conduct an after action review to assess the exercise and for observers coach trainers, also known as OCTs, to give their input.
One OCT said he is passionate about the SFAT training mission. Sgt. 1st Class Andrew O’Dell, of Talladega, Tenn., assigned to the 162nd Infantry Brigade, based in Fort Polk, La.,
“The [SFAT] mission is something to be very proud of,” said the cavalry scout. “This is shaping Afghan history, right here.”
“I’ve seen it be successful [in Iraq], I know it works,” O’Dell said about the mentor/adviser role. “It is very important; it’s something to take seriously.”
Prior to the SFAT training, soldiers go through an advisory academy where O’Dell is also an instructor. SFAT teams go through the situational training exercises and learn key lessons but, “The priority is to learn how to interact with their Afghan counterparts downrange,” O’Dell said.