Brigade Commander Prepares for Afghanistan Deployment
By Army Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
FORT IRWIN, Calif., June 13, 2012 Soldiers with the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team 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 Afghan leaders.
An Afghan role player portraying a provincial governor addresses security concerns to Army Col. Michael Getchell, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and other brigade leaders during an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., on June 11, 2012. The brigade is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in the fall. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“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,” Army Col. Michael Getchell, the 4th Brigade’s commander, said after participating in an exercise featuring Afghan role players at the National Training Center here.
While most of the brigade’s troops are refining their common-soldier tasks in preparation for the deployment, Getchell is putting his focus on the way he’ll start building relationships with Afghan provincial leaders later this year.
“The dynamic in Afghanistan is changing,” said Getchell, a Bridgewater, Mass., native who previously deployed to Afghanistan in 2002. “We’re pretty certain by the time we get there the Afghan security forces will really be in the lead, and so it’s a different mission.”
“It’s about enabling them to remain in the lead,” he added, “and the No. 1 piece to that, is relationships.”
During a recent exercise featuring Afghan role players in a simulated Afghanistan province, seated between some small buildings that mirror a typical Afghan town, Getchell sat and talked security, safety and engineering projects -- things that will take center stage in the brigade’s real-life deployment.
“When you boil it all down, it’s the same wants and desires that any American would want,” Getchell said after the exercise -- just one of several planned for the brigade’s training rotation here. “They want security; they want a better future for their kids -- the same that we would want.”
The mindset was different during his previous deployment to Afghanistan, Getchell said, noting that opportunities for meetings between U.S. military leaders and local Afghans were scarce, in comparison with today’s mission.
“It was a very different mission back then,” the colonel said. “We had very little engagement with the population, almost no engagement with the Afghan army, and really no engagement with police.”
Sitting inside a tiny trailer with his deputy commander, a U.S. provincial reconstruction team leader and other staff from the brigade, Getchell listened intently, scribbled down concerns addressed by the mock provincial leaders and reassured them of his team’s commitment to their needs.
As two small fans whirled in an effort to cool down the cramped room, Getchell shared his soccer analogy with the Afghan role players. But the Afghans, he said, 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, adding that he and his team are just a few sticks in that bundle.
Sharing such analogies, stories and poems with his Afghan partners will facilitate communication later in Afghanistan, the colonel explained.
“I’ll be able to have more human contact and human dialogue with them,” he said, looking ahead to his plans for engagement with real Afghan leaders.
To Getchell, the role players -- dressed in traditional Afghan hats and robes and speaking in their native tongue -- are every bit as real and reminiscent of the country as Fort Irwin’s backdrop of high-desert mountains, its extreme heat and simulated Afghan villages.
“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 see ourselves, and then figure out how we can make the most out of these types of engagements,” said Army Lt. Col. Jody Miller, the brigade’s deputy commander, who sat next to Getchell during the meeting. “We’re not going to get much done by ourselves over there. It’s a joint effort for us to continue moving the ball forward.”
Standing outside the small trailer under the bright sun in a cloudless sky, Getchell made it clear that Afghanistan-similar weather and terrain aren’t the only reasons Afghanistan-bound units train here.
The “human terrain” provided by the Afghan role players “is invaluable,” Getchell said.
“And we can’t replicate that at Joint Base Lewis-McChord or any other installation,” he said.