Face of Defense: Guardsman Works to Develop Afghan Army
By Army Capt. Anthony Deiss
Task Force Rushmore
KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 17, 2010 While many South Dakotans are aware of the contributions South Dakota Army National Guard units have made in supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they may not know about the contributions made by individual Guardsmen who deploy and serve.
Army Col. Michael Herman of the South Dakota Army National Guard briefs Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, center-left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center-right, on the progress of training Afghan National Army units in September 2010 at Kabul Military Training Center near Kabul, Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Known as individual augmentees or IAs, these Guard members have voluntarily asked for an opportunity to serve their state and nation by filling key positions in the war fight.
Having never mobilized with an activated unit, Army Col. Michael Herman of Aberdeen, S.D., said, he knew he wanted to serve in Afghanistan in some capacity. He now is helping to develop the Afghan National Army.
“I hadn’t deployed yet, and got permission to deploy by the South Dakota Guard,” said Herman, 47. “I worked through the National Guard Bureau to find an IA assignment, and they gave me a list to choose from in Afghanistan, because that’s where I wanted to serve.”
Since 2001, the South Dakota Army National Guard has mobilized more than 3,500 soldiers in support of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, about 50 of them in IA positions. In August 2009, Herman chose a position critical to the security climate in Afghanistan from a short list of available colonel augmentee positions.
Over the next 15 months, Herman would serve as the senior advisor and coalition commander of the Consolidated Fielding Center at Kabul Military Training Center near the Afghan capital of Kabul. The CFC develops nearly all Afghan army units for the country –- manning, equipping, training, validating, and finally deploying units into the fight.
“The role of the individual augmentee is very important. Units mobilizing are obviously very important, but IAs fill key positions,” said Herman, who is married with three children and one grandchild. “National Guard people are especially well suited for these types of assignments, because they bring a lot of unique skill sets to this type of environment or theater.”
So important is the role of the CFC in developing the security forces needed for Afghanistan, it garners the attention of the top officials from the U.S. government and military, as well as coalition partner nations. Herman has briefed former International Security Assistance Force Commander Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, as well as numerous Congress members and foreign ambassadors.
With an ISAF goal of having 134,000 trained and fielded Afghan soldiers throughout the country by last month, Herman knew he had a big task ahead of him when he arrived in September 2009. With only about 110,000 Afghan army forces trained and deployed since the war began, Herman would lead the effort to increase its size by nearly 30,000 soldiers in just over a year –- bringing the total to about 140,000.
“I knew very little about the position when I selected it,” said Herman, a 29-year veteran of the South Dakota Guard. “But with having an extensive training background, I thought it would be the perfect fit for me training Afghan soldiers as they stand up their national army.”
Prior to mobilizing, Herman had been the professor of military science at South Dakota State University in Brookings for four years. Before that, he spent more than 13 years serving in training, personnel and administrative officer positions for the 1-147th Field Artillery Battalion and 147th Field Artillery Brigade, responsible for ensuring the manning, equipping and training of soldiers.
Herman would rely on this experience to help in developing the year-old CFC. Leading up to his arrival, the CFC was the only collective training center in Afghanistan ramping up Afghan army units.
“It was a relatively new training center. In the past, the [Afghan army] had been standing up their units in separate areas or remote locations,” Herman said. “What [ISAF and the Afghan government] found out is that they had a product that was very different from one another.”
Herman said some Afghan army corps would do very well at getting their soldiers the right equipment and training, while others were not doing as well, so coalition forces and the Afghan defense minister decided to have one location to have collective training.
While the CFC was in its infancy, the program had very few resources and personnel to properly train the numbers of soldiers. But Herman had experience taking a struggling organization and making it successful. He revamped South Dakota State’s Army ROTC program there, and it later was was selected as the most improved battalion by the Army’s Cadet Command.
With few resources and not enough personnel and training aids, Herman quickly needed to figure out how he was going to train so many forces in such a short amount of time.
“I started formulating a plan with my staff and team on what we needed to complete our mission,” he said. Herman’s team initially consisted of only 16 coalition soldiers and 10 contractors. Needing resources, training aids, additional equipment and personnel, Herman was about to tell the commander of all U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan what he needed to be successful.
“At the time, General McChrystal had come out to the CFC -– he was getting ready to visit with President Obama, and he asked some hard questions of me,” Herman said. “McChrystal asked, ‘Can you do what you are assigned to do? Can you meet the throughput capability?’ At the time we had a frank discussion, and I said, ‘Yes, if we have the right resources.’”
By November 2009, Army Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV was assigned as the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan commander and added a lot of resources for Herman and his team. Many coalition nations started contributing personnel, and by January, Herman started getting the resources he needed.
Herman’s team grew to more than 440 coalition forces –- consisting of more than 50 support teams from nations such as Great Britain, Turkey, Australia, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, Jordan and Canada.
“We were only putting out one or two Afghan kandaks (battalion-sized elements of about 800 soldiers) at a time,” Herman said. “By the April/May time frame, we had seven, eight or nine kandaks going through the CFC at any given time.”
By last month, the CFC had met the quota of 134,000 Afghan soldiers fielded, but along the way, Herman and his team made a significant change in the development process: quality vs. quantity.
“We are making progress in this war. It’s night and day since I got here,” Herman said. “When I started, I had five training aids; now we have a battalions worth of aids. Less than 50 percent [of Afghan troops] could qualify with their weapons; now we are up to 90 percent. We are teaching the military decision-making process and troop-leading procedures. Now, staffs know how to plan for operations.”
Herman said the CFC is producing a better product now than it ever has before. With more training time, more training tasks and more quality training, the Afghan soldiers are better, and this translates into a better fighting force, he added.
The CFC also develops combat support units, Herman noted.
“These types of units are very critical to sustainability right now,” he said. “There are probably enough combatant commands out there to do the job, but they are having a hard time sustaining themselves. We as coalition partners are providing the sustainment operations, but we are starting to produce more of those units, so they will soon start taking over that mission.”
With the pieces falling into place –- adequate resources and personnel, quality training and the support units to sustain it all -– a picture is forming of what the Afghanistan National Army should look like, Herman said.
“We’ve produced 68 units and more than 29,000 Afghan soldiers at the CFC during my time here,” Herman said. “Our goal was 134,000; we now have 140,000. Our new goal is 171,600 by October of 2011, and we are on track to meet that.”
Herman said the Afghans he has met and worked with have been gracious and supportive of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and in helping to build their army.
“Working with the Afghan Army leadership has been an outstanding experience and they are extremely supportive of the American and the coalition presence here,” he said. “They know that we are here spending our resources, money and soldiers to help them take over their own security, and they understand they need to stand on their own two feet.”
As Herman completes his tour and heads back to South Dakota, he leaves Afghanistan knowing he has made a difference in the war effort, and will leave with a different impression of what the individual augmentee can accomplish.
“I’m a huge fan of the IA, and I think they play an important role in this war,” he said. “For a National Guard officer to have had the position I was in is extraordinary, because of the responsibility and tasking assigned. I would encourage any Guardsman to volunteer for an IA assignment.”