WASHINGTON — There’s more to building an army than training soldiers, and Defense Department civilians are stepping to the fore to help Afghan counterparts learn how to run a military establishment.
DOD established the Ministry of Defense Advisors Program in 2009 to address a basic issue NATO faces in Afghanistan: How to effect a smooth transition of security responsibility to Afghan security forces, said James A. Schear, deputy assistant secretary of defense for partnership strategy and stability operations.
“Training the Afghan army and police is part of the equation, but so is the encouragement and development of competent ministerial institutions to oversee the transition and sustain the force over time,” Schear said in an interview.
Civilians bring expertise across a wide range of skill sets ranging from financial management to personnel policy to acquisition and logistics. These are skills that DOD civilians can best teach to their Afghan counterparts, he said. The program is part of the Civilian Expeditionary Workforce initiative and is aimed at civilians in grades GS-13 and above.
The first group of DOD civilians deployed last year, drawn from the department’s 700,000 civilian employees, Schear explained.
“It’s a terrific talent pool to draw from,” he said. “If you are an Afghan minister, you can look at them and say, ‘These are people who bring talents to build my office, my staff, my department,’ ” he added.
A uniformed officer is an asset in Afghanistan, Schear noted, but a DOD civilian sends a message of commitment to Afghan leaders. “With a contractor, the question often becomes, ‘Who are you working for, and how flexible are you?’ ” he said. “We think civilians are a very good fit.”
A strong demand exists for the advisors, and they form an integral part of the NATO and U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, wants the advisors to make up about a third of the personnel in the ministries in 2011. They constitute about 5 percent today.
If chosen, employees go through a seven-week training session in Washington and at Camp Atterbury, Ind. Schear said those chosen already have the technical expertise, and that the training helps them to build their mentoring skills and immerses them in Afghanistan’s culture and history.
The training addresses hard problems, he added, such as corruption and the drug trade.
“It’s not a flashy job,” Schear said. “They have to blend in and work effectively behind the scenes and promote Afghan ownership of the result. You have to be practical and flexible, and you have to be in listening mode and to be very practical in your advice with the knowledge of what can be absorbed in an Afghan reality.”
Once deployed, the advisors work with NATO Training Mission Afghanistan for a year and can extend for another year. A temporary-backfill mechanism is in place so the volunteers’ offices in the United States will release them to deploy. “We’re going after high-quality people,” Schear said.
The advisors –- most with between 15 and 20 years of experience –- can “reach back” to their organizations to get help, advice or any resources the ministries may need, he added.
Schear emphasized that volunteers need to be flexible. “We’ve had people go in because of one skill set and find they end up doing something else,” he said.
The program has applicability elsewhere, providing a capability Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates deems important.
“Right now it is mainly Afghanistan-focused,” Schear said, “but Defense Secretary Gates has stressed the need for capacity building in a broader strategic context of working with partners in the developing world and regions that are susceptible to instability. Developing responsible, responsive defense ministries is key to that.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)