Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Old attitudes, a new war

In a recent article in the print edition of Stars and Stripes written by Jeff Schogol titled, "4,000 4th BCT, 82d Airborne paratroopers going to Afghanistan to train security forces," (Saturday, March 28, 2009), Schogol quotes an unidentified Pentagon official in reference to the training and mentoring mission of Afghanistan's security forces, as saying, "Until now, the military has relied heavily on inexperienced National Guardsmen to fill out the teams..." The quote has created considerable stir and rightfully so. (Stars and Stripes has removed the original link to the article, redrafting the online post with the quote removed. The only remaining "smoking gun" are the thousands of print copies distributed throughout the world on US military bases.)

What the article's comment reflects is a pervasive attitude within that Regular Army that draws back to an image of the National Guard as an under equipped, under trained force from the years following Vietnam. The Guard of today looks and operates nothing like the Guard of years past. Following from 8 years of war, the National Guard now has more combat experience within its ranks than its overshadowing "big brother." And unlike its overshadowing "big brother," the National Guard maintains both a domestic mission profile along with its combat mission profile. (Think back to Katrina and the Lt. General Russel Honore's push to get 82d Airborne on the ground to secure the city. The security was done by the National Guard; the 82d was prevented from doing anything other then presence patrols less they risk violating passe comitatus.)

What has been seriously overlooked in Afghanistan is how much impact the National Guard has made. Having been given the mission of training the Afghan National Army in 2003, the National Guard has been the quiet force behind the majority of training of Afghanistan's national army and security forces. That mission was further expanded in the Fall of 2006 when Brigadier General Pritt was directed by Major General Durbin to implement a training and mentorship program for the Afghan National Police, taking over for the failed efforts of Dyncorp. Pritt's and the 41st Brigade's efforts have been given little attention in spite of the fact that the training program was put in place in a record three months, without any additional funding or man power resourcing. That success can be directly attributed to the Guard's ability to adapt to varied mission sets by tapping into their civilian skill sets; something the Regular Army lacks. To date the National Guard continues to expand its training and mentorship role throughout the country.

As the big Army prepares to take over more of the mission here in Afghanistan, it would be well advised to look towards the National Guard, among others, for guidance. The attitudes that somehow the Guard is inferior need to be left in the past. Afghanistan remains a counter-insurgency fight. That demands flexibility and quick adaptation to circumstances. The National Guard has proven itself capable in that area with lessons learned worth listening too.

1 comment:

  1. I envy your courage for going out there and doing that. I'm in the comfort of my home reading stories about Afghanistan and about Greg Mortenson's work, and I can imagine how volatile things are there. I hope you capture great stuff. I'll be checking back. Found you through Twitter.