FORT POLK, La. – The battlefield no longer resembles a chess match where one pawn takes another; it is a dynamic ever-changing environment where cultural values matter, a place where one move can affect many.
Security Force Assistance Teams, at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, La., not only learn about combat tactics, techniques and procedures, but also about the customs and courtesies of the Afghan way of life.
“What we’re arming our [soldiers] with, as they go across the ocean, is just a couple key points that are very basic; respect their religion, respect the people, respect the culture, and respect the women,” said Sgt. Maj. Doug Maddi, brigade sergeant major for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
These basic principles are being reinforced by, providing downrange feedback from subject matter experts returning from deployment, and the interactions soldiers experience with cultural role-players.
When the 12-person SFAT units deploy, they will advise and mentor the Afghan National Security Forces as they conduct security operations. SFAT units are rigorously trained to defend themselves, but their primary role is to train and mentor the ANSF.
The JRTC training area is designed to replicate villages in Afghanistan, which include traditional homes, businesses and mosques, but it is the cultural role-players that bring the Afghan way-of-life to those structures and provide soldiers with scenarios they may face while deployed.
“The best thing that JRTC does is [provide] a large percentage of cultural role-players out here, so, the interactions that the teams are getting while they’re in role is outstanding, but what’s more important are the interactions [the soldiers] get with these cultural role-players when they’re out of role,” Said Maddi. “It really helps our team leaders, NCOs [non-commissioned officers-in-charge] and team members to understand what’s going on culturally and what they can expect when they get downrange.”
Another way SFAT units are expanding their knowledge on Afghan culture is through direct interactions from subject matter experts returning from downrange. An example of this is JRTC brought in Capt. Tia Terry, with the 401st Military Police Company, to share her experiences working with ANSF.
“They brought [me] and a bunch of my counter parts, that had deployment experience, down to tell [the SFAT units] the things they may missed,” said Terry with the 401st Military Police Company. “For example, the interpersonal relationships you build and how important that is to establish before you can get down to orders of business.”
Col. Mike Kasales, commander of the 3rd BCT, 4th ID, sees the benefit of the cultural role-players and understands how a soldier’s actions can affect the Afghan people.
“You can read about it, you can hear about it, you can watch a movie about it, but there’s nothing that replaces doing it. Having somebody there that allows you to see that, and somebody that can say, we wouldn’t do that in Afghanistan, you shouldn’t do that in Afghanistan,” said Kasales. “You just won’t get it unless you’re talking to the real thing and here we’ve got the real deal, and so it’s invaluable.”