It’s no longer enough for infantry squad leaders to thoroughly know their job and ensure their soldiers are properly trained to close with and destroy the enemy, explained 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team Commander Col. Jim Crider.
On Tuesday, “Willing and Able” infantrymen assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st HBCT, 3rd Infantry Division conducted village-stability operations at Bastogne Village, a mock Afghanistan village on Fort Stewart.
Infantry soldiers were required to react appropriately to insurgent fire and to use culture and language classes and negotiating and relationship-building skills to defuse volatile situations in remote villages.
“This is a 72-hour long exercise,” Crider said, explaining that many villages in Afghanistan have been inhabited for thousands of years. “You can’t just come in there as an outsider and expect people to accept you. Squad leaders will have to make tough ethical and moral decisions as well as normal combat decisions during this exercise. This is what they’ll have to do (if) we’re deployed to Afghanistan. They have to be on guard 24 hours a day.”
Lt. Col. Todd Kelly, 2/7th Inf. commander, described the exercise as a means of understanding those second- and third-order effects to actions taken by American forces, like the accidental burning of copies of the Koran. He said 3rd ID Commander Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams stressed village-stability training as an important goal for anticipated deployments to Afghanistan.
“The village elder is the center of gravity for the Afghani village,” Kelly said. “He’s an arbitrator of disputes and leader of his people. Nowadays, though, the average elder is in his 40s. After 30 years of conflict in that country, there’s been an almost elimination of elders.
“The Soviets had a scorched-earth policy toward anyone who stood in their way, and the Taliban eliminated elders who didn’t support them. Now that piece of Afghan society is trying to re-build itself. Part of what we do is help them by providing a more stable village and allowing the Afghan people to fill that civil leadership void.”
He said most of what American forces do to achieve this goal is talk with elders to learn how they can help Afghan security forces and elders improve their villages.
Sgt. 1st Class Garry White said the exercise wasn’t greatly different from previous training for deployments to Iraq. He said he’s been doing village-stability operations for years but on a company or battalion level, rather than squad level.
Staff Sgt. Samuel Tiner called the training “real world” situations that require the squad leader to constantly consider the second- and third-order effects of their decisions.
Sgt. Adam Brown, who portrayed a village elder, said working on the other side helped him understand the Afghani perspective.
“If you promise me you’re going to provide security for my village, and you let me down, I’m less likely to trust you next time,” Brown said. “It’s all about trust.”
Crider talked about after-action review. At the end of the AAR, a private raised his hand to comment.
“He told me he now understood it wasn’t enough for him to understand his own job and the job of everyone in his squad,” Crider said. “He said he had to understand those second-and-third order effects to actions taken by himself or his squad. I was so glad to hear him say that. I immediately gave him a (1st HBCT) coin.”