Soldiers Mentor Afghan Border Police
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 5, 2007 Soldiers who mentor Afghan border police in Khowst find there is plenty of action, variety and adaptation involved in sharing their skills.
Army Master Sgt. Jeffrey P. Lowe from York, Pa., helps Afghan border police at the Tera zayi District Center set up an antenna for their communications radio. Photo by Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A group of eight soldiers is one of two embedded training teams assigned to mentor the Khowst border police. With the living conditions, and the way they move around their assigned province, anyone would be hard-pressed to tell them they have a cozy job. On any given day, these soldiers may be on a mountain or in a river bed, in a vehicle or dismounted, sleeping on a cot or on the ground.
The embedded training teams are charged with mentoring the border police into a professional and effective organization capable of securing Afghanistan’s borders. This means the mentors need to be where the border police forces are. So, Khowst mentors -- led by Army Capt. John T. Boyd, of Cranford, N.J. -- have at least five different locales they call home on any given day.
The team occasionally sleeps at Camp Clark or in a tent at Camp Salerno, but more often they sleep at the Tera zayi district center or at one of the border control points on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. On a rare stop at Camp Clark, they may be afforded a bed on which to sleep. At Camp Salerno or the border control points, they do well to sleep on cots.
Tera zayi district center is their most frequent “home.” While at the district center, they are assigned to be the quick-reaction force for the company of 82nd Airborne Division soldiers that also resides at the district center.
All but one soldier on this border police mentor team is an infantryman. Some were assigned as mentors and some as security forces. They all, however, end up doing both.
Army 1st Lt. Robin C. Crumpler, from Beulaville, N.C., spends time mentoring the border police executive officer. Army Master Sgt. Jeffrey P. Lowe, from York, Pa., mentors the company first sergeant. The other infantrymen assist in mentoring various “soldier” skills. The non-infantry soldier of the team, Spc. Jamie M. Bloodworth, a cook from Ridgeville, S.C., spends time mentoring the border police cooks on sanitation in cooking areas.
One night, Lowe heard small-arms fire coming from somewhere near the district center. He woke up and alerted the security soldiers and his mentor team. Within minutes, the team was geared up and in their Humvees ready to respond. But local police had handled the situation, and it was nothing they needed to respond to -- that night.
From the district center, the team travels throughout border areas with the border police. The border police assigned to man the communications system at the district center accompany the mentors on mission movements.
For missions and other requirements, mentors guide the border police in coordinating support of their own battalion headquarters element in Khowst and the Afghan National Police. For security reasons, the mentors and border police avoid becoming predictable by mixing up their routes and the times at which they travel.
Mixing up their routes requires the team’s soldiers to always be alert and often to dismount from their vehicles for security patrols with the border police. Mountain climbing is a norm with these soldiers.
“The thing I really like most is going on these ops,” said Sgt. Jeremiah K. Stafford, of Charleston, S.C. “We could be sitting on the top (of a hill) with our (night observation devices) and cold weather gear, and nothing. Then maybe we’ll see somebody with some donkeys with mortars on their backs.”
These experiences have made the mentor team accustomed to being on guard for danger at all times. Unlike some of the more populous cities in Afghanistan, it is pretty common to see people in the border villages carrying AK-47 rifles. Unless they are attacked, the only way for the mentors and border police to differentiate whether these people are threats or not is to inspect them.
“I want to start checking these people out that are carrying weapons,” Boyd said before a recent mission. With that direction, his team conveyed the significance to the border police of them ensuring that weapons are only carried by civilians if authorized by law. “We’ll live by their rules, but we’ve got to get (the border police) to enforce their rules,” Boyd said.
With only two interpreters assigned to work with them, the soldiers have learned to adjust and work with their resources. Whether using English, Dari, Pashtu or improvised hand signals, the soldiers communicate their messages with the border police with little trouble.
At Camp Clark, the soldiers took weekly Pashtu classes, Boyd said. “Then we would also do discussions on issues such as funeral rites and holidays.”
The team has found learning basic Pashtu especially helpful because they are not all at any one location most the time.
The Afghan border police organization is still in the assessment stage, Boyd said. That is why he and his team make sure to be efficient with the time they spend mentoring.
“Be straightforward and be professional,” Lowe advised his subordinate soldiers prior to a recent four-day mission at one border control point.
(Marine Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)