Soldiers with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division arenâ€™t deploying to Afghanistan this fall to play soccer, but thatâ€™s the analogy the brigadeâ€™s commander is using to describe how heâ€™ll partner with local leaders once in country.
â€œWeâ€™re all players on a soccer team, and weâ€™re going to move that ball forward, and that ball is security for the people of Afghanistan,â€ said Col. Michael Getchell, brigade commander, after a key leader engagement exercise with role players at the National Training Center, where the month of June has served as crunch time for the brigade to prepare for its near-future tour.
While the majority of the more than 5,000 Soldiers with the brigade here are refining their common Soldier tasks in preparation for a combat zone, Getchell is putting his focus on the way heâ€™ll start building relationships with Afghan provincial leaders later this year.
â€œThe dynamic in Afghanistan is changing,â€ said Getchell, a Bridgewater, Mass., native who last deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. â€œWeâ€™re pretty certain by the time we get there the Afghan Security Forces will really be in the lead, and so itâ€™s a different mission.Â Itâ€™s about enabling them to remain in the lead, and the number one piece to that is relationships.â€
During a meeting June 11 with Afghan role players in a simulated Afghanistan province, seated between a smattering of small buildings that mirror a typical cityscape in the country, Getchell sat and talked security, safety and engineering projects â€“ things that will take center stage in the brigadeâ€™s real-life deployment.
â€œWhen you boil it all down, itâ€™s the same wants and desires that any American would want,â€ he said after the meeting, one of several planned for the rotation. â€œThey want security; they want a better future for their kids â€“ the same that we would want.â€
Getchell said that during his last Afghanistan deployment, the mindset was different, and face time between U.S. military leaders and the local populace was scarce in comparison with todayâ€™s mission.
â€œIt was a very different mission back then,â€ he said. â€œWe had very little engagement with the population, almost no engagement with the Afghan army, and really no engagement with police.â€
Sitting at a t-shape of tables in a tiny trailer with his brigade deputy commander, a U.S. provincial reconstruction team leader and other staff from the brigade, Getchell listened intently, scribbled down concerns addressed by the provincial leaders and reassured them of his teamâ€™s commitment to their needs.
As two small fans whirred in a desperate effort to cool down the cramped room, Getchell shared his soccer analogy. But the Afghans have their own way of looking at their partnership, even if, in this case, the bond is for training purposes.
â€œThey call it a bundle of sticks,â€ Getchell said, adding that he and his team are just a few sticks in that bundle.
Sharing such analogies, stories and poems helps draw them closer, he explained.
â€œIâ€™ll be able to have that more human contact and human dialogue with them,â€ he said, looking ahead to his plans for engagement with real Afghan leaders.
To Getchell, the role players â€“ dressed in traditional Afghan hats and robes and speaking in their native tongue â€“ are every bit as real and reminiscent of the country as Fort Irwinâ€™s backdrop of High Desert mountains, extreme heat and simulated villages.
And so is the benefit the role players offer.
â€œTheyâ€™re trying to equip us with an understanding of the people and their desires and the problems that are going on in Afghanistan,â€ Getchell said. â€œIf we make cultural mistakes here, we can learn from those mistakes without really paying a penalty.â€
â€œIt helps us to see ourselves, and then figure out how we can make the most out of these types of engagements,â€ said Lt. Col. Jody Miller, the brigadeâ€™s deputy commander, who sat next to Getchell during the meeting. â€œWeâ€™re not going to get much done by ourselves over there. Itâ€™s a joint effort for us to continue moving the ball forward.â€
Standing outside the small trailer under the inescapable rays of sun in a cloudless Fort Irwin sky, where pretend mortars are heard and troops die â€“ in play but not in real life â€“ Getchell made it clear that common weather and physical terrain arenâ€™t the only reason units train at the NTC.
â€œThat human terrain is invaluable, and we canâ€™t replicate that at (our home base of) Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., or any other installation,â€ he said.