GARDEZ, Afghanistan –
When Soldiers, civilians and contractors come to Advising Platform Lightning they discover how difficult it is to catch your breath here, because AP Lighting is located at 7,500 feet in elevation, an elevation higher than Denver, CO.
Located just outside the Afghan city of Gardez, AP Lightning is about a quarter mile in diameter, and surrounded by Forward Operating Base Thunder, an Afghan National Army compound.
AP Lightning is the home for the U.S. Army Soldiers of Task Force Southeast. Their purpose is to provide the 203rd Corps of the Afghanistan National Army and the 303rd Afghanistan National Police Zone Headquarters with Training, Advising and Assistance in order to enable the local Afghan National Army and National Police.
"Task Force Southeast’s main mission is advising the fully capable ANA 203rd and 303rd,” said Col. Matthew Van Wagenen, commander of Task Force Southeast, “this is done by a combined team of noncommissioned officers and officers from 1st Cavalry Division, 36th Infantry Division and 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment from 1st Armored Division. The best part of this mission is the Afghan Corps is maintaining security and fully independent, it’s great to work with such professional partners."
Task Force Southeast is built into sections from multiple commands.
The Military Advisor Team and the Police Advisor Team are mostly from elements of 1st Cavalry Division and 36th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, TX, but also include members from other branches of the Armed Forces.
The MAT’s focus is to provide military experience, advice, and situational understanding for key leaders of the 203rd Afghan National Army by using Soldiers and leaders who have years of experience of operating in Afghanistan.
“The MAT brings a wide range of experience, from every branch, throughout a multitude of ranks (from 1st Lt. through Col.), with combat deployments in multiple theaters, along with professionalism and incredible work ethic to coach the ANA in combined arms operations, logistics, training, personnel management, and professional development,” said Maj. Jesse Reed, Operations Advisor for the MAT.
The PAT’s primary mission is much the same as the MAT, embedded with the PAT are civilian police advisors with decades of experience each in law enforcement policies and procedures.
"The TF Southeast Police Advising Team is a highly effective team comprised of senior commissioned and non-commissioned personnel from the Active, Guard and Reserve components that are augmented by civilian retired police,” said Lt. Col. Allan Dollison, Deputy Commander to the PAT. “The fusion of that vital and unique experience greatly assists the team in the conduct of the TAA mission for the 303rd Zone."
The 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment “Iron Dragoons,” out of Fort Bliss, TX provide security teams known as Guardian Angels. “Guardian Angels make sure that the key leader engagements out there at the zone go off smoothly, that the advisors don’t have to worry about security, that’s what we’re here for,” said Staff Sgt. Jason Terwilliger a Cavalry Scout with 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division who is the Guardian Angel for the PAT commander.
The members of Task Force Southeast achieve these engagements through different methods, unique to each team.
The MAT conducts “walk to advise” or “drive to advise” missions to the 203rd ANA Corps’ FOB Thunder. The PAT generally conducts “fly to advise” missions to the 303rd Police Zone Headquarters located on the far side of Gardez.
Besides the maneuver difficulties, there is also the language barrier. The two primary languages of Afghanistan
are Pashto and Dari; this is over come with a team of linguists that are comprised of local national and dual
“The linguist team is responsible for translations and interpretations between U.S. personnel and the Afghans,” said Gharghast Hidai, a linguist for the PAT “in some cases we advise the U.S. advisors about Afghan culture as well as updates about local news.”
There are multiple difficulties in translating languages. The Afghan languages are written from right to left, in a completely unrelated alphabet to English, and some basic concepts are different.
“The main difficulty during translation is cultural understanding, for example, sometimes an Afghan officer will say a proverb, a poem, or a joke to pass a message, but it is impossible to translate,” said Hidai.
All these different sections form their own teams, but also come together to form a larger team called Task Force Southeast that helps shape and enhance the ANA and ANP over the seven provinces that they affect.
The purpose and importance of the Train, Advise and Assist mission is apparent to everyone on the Task Force Southeast Team.
“It’s good for moving the responsibilities over to the Afghans and taking off of our military,” said Spc. Samuel Frank, a Cavalry Scout with 6th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division who performs as a Guardian Angel for the advising teams.
PART 2: Training and Leadership development helps expand ANA and ANP capabilities.