Training Kicks Off for NATO Mentors in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10, 2012 — Almost 300 troops from eight coun­tries, all bound for Afghanistan to men­tor Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, kicked off a rig­or­ous pre-deploy­ment train­ing rota­tion yes­ter­day in Hohen­fels, Ger­many.

Greek and Bul­gar­i­an army sol­diers from an oper­a­tional men­tor and liai­son team assess a casu­al­ty with a U.S. Army crew chief from the 12th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade dur­ing a pre­vi­ous train­ing exer­cise at the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter in Hohen­fels, Ger­many, Dec. 10, 2011. The sol­diers par­tic­i­pat­ed in OMLT train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for their deploy­ment to Afghanistan. U.S. Army pho­to by Spc. Evan­gelia Grigiss
Click to enlarge

Ten oper­a­tional men­tor liai­son teams con­verged on the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter for 17 days of train­ing designed to pre­pare them for a mis­sion crit­i­cal to the tran­si­tion process and Afghanistan’s long-term secu­ri­ty, Army Col. Jef­frey Mar­tin­dale, the cen­ter com­man­der, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Service. 

“They are the bridge between con­ven­tion­al forces from all the NATO coun­tries … and the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces” he said of OMLT teams that men­tor Afghan mil­i­tary units as well as the new­er police oper­a­tional men­tor liai­son teams that work with police forces. 

The teams are designed to build capa­bil­i­ties that will enable the Afghans to assume increas­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty, he said. But Mar­tin­dale said he sees a con­tin­u­ing, and even increas­ing, need for these teams as U.S. and NATO com­bat forces draw down in Afghanistan. 

“In my mind, [OMLTS] will be the stay-behind [troops] as we tai­lor down the size of large con­ven­tion­al forces and hand por­tions of the coun­try over to the Afghans,” he said. 

At that point, he said, he envi­sions that OMLTs will remain embed­ded with­in Afghan secu­ri­ty forces to ensure they can oper­ate with U.S. and NATO enabling capa­bil­i­ties that remain on the ground.

Train­ing at the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter is designed to ensure strong OMLT capa­bil­i­ties through these evolv­ing roles.

The cur­rent train­ing, the 21st OMLT rota­tion since the sum­mer of 2007, includes two teams from Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary and Bul­gar­ia and one team each from Poland, Slove­nia, Alba­nia and Romania.

Each team arrived for the sec­ond phase of NATO OMLT train­ing after com­plet­ing the first phase – pre­dom­i­nant­ly indi­vid­ual skills and some low­er-lev­el col­lec­tive skills – at their home stations.

“This is real­ly where we bring it all togeth­er,” Mar­tin­dale explained. “This is where we focus on men­tor­ing and [ensur­ing they are] self-suf­fi­cient enough to be able to shoot, move and com­mu­ni­cate on their own when they are out, part­nered with Afghan units.”

The Hohen­fels train­ing is designed to be as chal­leng­ing and real­is­tic as pos­si­ble, said Army Lt. Col. William “Clark” Lind­ner, senior observer/controller for the OMLT training.

The cadre mem­bers apply their own expe­ri­ences from recent Afghanistan deploy­ments and reg­u­lar feed­back about chang­ing con­di­tions there to cre­ate train­ing sce­nar­ios that reflect the lat­est tac­tics, tech­niques and pro­ce­dures, he said.

In addi­tion, the cen­ter rou­tine­ly sends observ­er-con­trollers to Afghanistan to work with OMLT teams they trained to assess what train­ing was worth­while and what needs to be improved or changed, Lin­der said.

When OMLTs arrive at Hohen­fels, their first days are ded­i­cat­ed to basic com­bat skills that enable forces to be self-suf­fi­cient on the bat­tle­field, Lind­ner explained. Troops demon­strate their abil­i­ty to react to fire, call for fire and for mede­vac sup­port and to inte­grate rotary-wing assets, he said.

From there, the train­ing moves direct­ly to men­tor­ing oth­ers car­ry­ing out these roles.

For the cur­rent rota­tion, 380 Roman­ian sol­diers are play­ing the role of Afghan sol­diers, receiv­ing men­tor­ing sup­port as they con­duct operations.

“We have found that we don’t real­ly need to bring an Afghan bat­tal­ion over here to get the same train­ing effect,” Mar­tin­dale said. “As long as you have a dif­fer­ent set of sol­diers that don’t speak the same lan­guage and are brought up in a dif­fer­ent train­ing envi­ron­ment, it still works out to be about the same thing.”

The men­tors-in-train­ing at Hohen­fels – almost half of them who have served pre­vi­ous Afghanistan deploy­ments — mon­i­tor “Afghan unit” activ­i­ties on two lev­els. They focus on how they con­duct mis­sions rang­ing from cor­don-and-search oper­a­tions to defense and hasty attacks. Mean­while, senior-lev­el men­tors assess the plan­ning and mil­i­tary deci­sion-mak­ing process­es the lead­ers make.

But the biggest lessons they work to instill, Mar­tin­dale said, is the art of men­tor­ing. “Every coun­try approach­es the mis­sion a bit dif­fer­ent­ly,” he said. “I would say those coun­tries who ful­ly embrace the men­tor­ship side of it have the best effect when they are in theater.”

That, he said, means “not just leav­ing a pro­tect­ed [for­ward oper­at­ing base], going out and doing a dri­ve-by where they see their coun­ter­parts and check on them, then go back to the safe place.”

Rather, Mar­tin­dale said the cadre strives to impress a dif­fer­ent mod­el of men­tor­ing: “liv­ing with them, work­ing with them, fight­ing with them all the time.”

“That is what we call men­tor­ing. That is the U.S. mod­el,” he said. “And that is what we try to impart onto our multi­na­tion­al part­ners here.”

When teams com­plete the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter train­ing, the JMRC cadre will cer­ti­fy whether they are ready to deploy. Some will return to their home bases for final pre-deploy­ment train­ing, but for oth­ers, Hohen­fels will be their last train­ing before depart­ing for Afghanistan.

Lind­ner said he has received “over­whelm­ing feed­back” that the OMLT train­ing paid off as teams arrived in the com­bat the­ater. Some said it caused them to address issues they had­n’t pre­vi­ous­ly con­sid­ered, but “that saved them when they got out into a fight.” Oth­ers said the train­ing pro­vid­ed key infor­ma­tion they applied when con­duct­ing operations.

With the amount of men­tor­ing train­ing the cen­ter pro­vides – typ­i­cal­ly four to five OMLT rota­tions per year and an increas­ing num­ber of POMLTs since they began in mid-2010 — Mar­tin­dale said JMRC is unique­ly locat­ed and staffed to pro­vide what’s rec­og­nized as a vital service.

“We have the unique capa­bil­i­ty of bring­ing all the NATO part­ners here,” both for train­ing and to serve on observ­er-con­troller teams, he said.

In doing so, Lind­ner said it enables some NATO coun­tries, par­tic­u­lar­ly those that can’t con­tribute bat­tal­ion- or brigade-size ele­ments, to be part­ners in the ISAF mission.

By help­ing them field qual­i­fied OMLT teams, he said, the cen­ter helps give them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make “a very cred­i­ble con­tri­bu­tion” in Afghanistan. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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