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Cultural engagement at NTC

Raider Bde. commander uses soccer analogy to describe team approach to Afghan relations

Published: 02:16PM June 21st, 2012
Cultural engagement at NTC

Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord/5th MPAD

Col. Michael Getchell (center), commander of 4th Bde., 2nd Inf.Div. during a role-playing exercise June 11.

FORT IRWIN, Calif. – Soldiers with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division aren’t deploying to Afghanistan this fall to play soccer, but that’s the analogy the brigade’s commander is using to describe how he’ll partner with local leaders once in country.

“We’re all players on a soccer team, and we’re going to move that ball forward, and that ball is security for the people of Afghanistan,” Col. Michael Getchell, brigade commander, said after a key leader engagement exercise with role players at the National Training Center on Fort Irwin, Calif. June has been crunch time for the brigade to prep for its imminent tour.

While the majority of the brigade’s 4,000 Soldiers refined their common Soldier tasks, Getchell focused on on building relationships with Afghan provincial leaders later this year.

“The dynamic in Afghanistan is changing,” Getchell said. “We’re pretty certain by the time we get there the Afghan Security Forces will really be in the lead, so it’s ... about enabling them to remain in the lead, and the No. 1 piece to that is relationships.”

At a meeting June 11 with role players in a simulated Afghanistan province, Getchell sat and talked security, safety and engineering projects — things that will take center stage in the brigade’s deployment.

After the meeting he spoke of the interests the cultures shared.

“They want security; they want a better future for their kids — the same that we would want,” he said.

During his 2002 deployment, Gretchell said the Afghan mindset was different, and face time between U.S. military leaders and the local populace was scarce compared to today.

“It was a very different mission back then,” he said. “We had almost no engagement with the Afghan army, and really no engagement with police.”

Sitting at a T-shape of tables in a tiny trailer with his deputy commander, a U.S. provincial reconstruction team leader and staff members, Getchell listened intently, scribbled down concerns of the provincial leaders and reassured them of his team’s commitment to their needs.

As two small fans whirled above 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.

“They call it a bundle of sticks,” Getchell said. His team is just a few sticks in that bundle.

Sharing analogies, stories and poems helps draw them closer.

“I’ll be able to have that more human contact and human dialogue with them,” he said.

To Getchell, the role players in traditional Afghan hats and robes and speaking Pashto were as real and reminiscent of the country as Fort Irwin’s high-desert heat, mountains and simulated villages.

And so are their benefits.

“They’re trying to equip us with an understanding of the people and the desires and the problems that are going on in Afghanistan,” Getchell said. “If we make cultural mistakes here, we can learn from those mistakes without really paying a penalty.”

“It helps us to figure out how we can make the most out of these types of engagements,” Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Jody Miller, said. “We’re not going to get much done by ourselves over there. It’s a joint effort ...”

The training benefit of NTC in that effort is unique, Getchell said.

“That human terrain is invaluable, and we can’t replicate that at (JBLM) or any other installation.”