Monday, December 18, 2006

The Lieutenant, Part Dieu

I met the Lieutenant that I will be paired with in Afghanistan for dinner at Max & Erma's. The two of us will be responsible for advising and mentoring an Afghan company. It should be between 70 and 100 men. He will work with the officers, and I will work with the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO's.) I think that we will get along just fine.

The 1LT (First Lieutenant) should be a Captain by the time we get to Afghanistan. He already did a tour in Iraq, doing convoy escort duties, so he's not favorably impressed by the Iraqis. He's approaching the Afghans with a certain sense of suspicion, which I certainly can't argue with. He and I will need to be on the same sheet of music at all times. If for any reason the company is infiltrated by insurgents, we could find ourselves in deep trouble really fast. So we will need to completely trust each other, communicate with each other, and always have a plan to "evade unassisted." That means we may need to become scarce most rikki-tic if the Afghans are not loyal to their elected government. Not what I hope to find, but you never know until you know. I don't want to find out the hard way and get caught flat-footed.

One of the problems that we will have is that the Afghan National Army is receiving training from a number of sources. One thing that makes the United States Army what it is (unbeatable in open battle) is our NCO Corps. The NCO Corps is the backbone of the Army. It is what separates us from the rest of the world's armies, with the notable exceptions of the armies of the British Commonwealth, and the Germans.

The Afghan officers are trained by our esteemed brethren from the Republic of Surrender Monkey... who commonly refer to themselves as the French. The French have a reputation as fine trainers of fine officers who have performed some of the finest blunders, retreats, and surrenders in history. They also train officers who have no idea of what to do with an NCO Corps, so they naturally do it themselves. You can invalidate a developing NCO support channel that way. An exception may be the Foreign Legion; they are by definition not French... but their officers are. After WWII, many of the NCO's of the Wehrmacht found their way into the French Foreign Legion. I can't imagine they didn't make a difference.

The Afghan NCO school is run by the British. The Brits have a strong NCO Corps, and their NCO traditions are strong.

Imagine a French officer... you get a picture of a man in a set of heavily starched fatigues with a bright white kepi on his head, some sort of baton tucked under his arm, and a disdainful attitude towards all who don't speak French as a their first language. A battle leader is not what you picture. Now picture a British Sergeant Major. You get an image of a man who miraculously remains upright amidst a hail of fire, handlebar mustache curled up at the ends, carrying an air of invincibility while he rails at the enemy and exhorts his men with cheerful calm and understated enthusiasm. He fires his weapon, and he finds time in the middle of a shelling to make a cup of tea.

The above was written tongue-in-cheek, but it has been noted that the French officer education system does not seem to stress the critical role of the NCO, and that's a problem. Some of the Afghan officers' first military experiences were under the tutelage of the Russians, also not known for their strong NCO Corps.

I think the LT's got the tougher job. All I've got to do is convince the Afghan NCO's that what the Brits taught them is the truth, and they need to do the NCO business even if the officers don't seem to know their role. If we can get the Afghan NCO's to take responsibility for leadership, accountability, and discipline, then we will make a lot of headway. It sounds so simple, doesn't it? I'm not under any illusions, but it can be done.

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