Lt. Col. Diana Staneszewski, a communications officer participating in the Afghan Hands Program, visits with Afghan women in a village near Kandahar City. There are nearly 200 military officers and senior NCOs in the program located throughout Afghanistan. (Courtesy photo)
KABUL, Afghanistan (Sept. 14, 2010) — One year ago this month, Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, established the Afghanistan Pakistan Hands Program for long-term regional engagement of the Afghan and Pakistani people.
Now, nearly 300 military and civilian personnel are deployed to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to build partnerships with the local populace as part of the greater counterinsurgency strategy employed by the International Security Assistance Force.
They are part of a program that allows them to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan partners.
U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Diana Staneszewski, a communications officer, arrived in Afghanistan four months ago for a one-year deployment to Camp Nathan Smith, in Kandahar Province. She is part of the first cohort of approximately 200 officers and senior NCOs that will eventually be deployed throughout Afghanistan.
She applied for the assignment after hearing the program described by the then-ISAF commander as “one that was to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people through language and social interaction and to reassure them that America is here to stay until the job is done.”
“I am a people person and I would get to interact with the people of Afghanistan,” said Staneszewski, about her decision to apply. “Learning the language and interacting with the population makes me a strategic and tactical game changer.”
After being accepted for the program, the colonel went through a 14-week Pashto language familiarization course at the Defense Language Services in Washington D.C. The institute also trained other Afghan Hands in either Dari or Urdu, the region’s other dominant languages.
Additional training included the Counterinsurgency Training Centre’s COIN Leadership course and 24 days of language immersion after arrival in country.
The colonel said that the language immersion training was the most beneficial when it comes to her day-to-day duties.
“[Since arriving], I mainly interact with the men, women, and children of Kandahar City,” said Staneszewski. “I am also the mentor to the Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar Province.”
The colonel’s days consist of going out with patrols to meet with people, often travelling miles from her camp.
She said that as a female, she has advantages over her male counterparts.
“I am successful because I can engage 100 percent of the population of Afghanistan and my male counterparts can only interact with the male population,” she said. “Inherently, this makes me more employable in building relationships with all Afghans.”
The Af-Pak Hands Program is a multi-year assignment for the participants. After their one-year deployment, the participants will return to their home units, but their next deployment will see them located back to the same location.
“[Going back to the same location allows me] to capitalize on the relationships that I have already have with the Afghan people I have worked with,” said Staneszewski.
Although her communications background doesn’t come into play much, her time in the military does.
“What is more helpful is that I am a senior officer who possesses personality and confidence,” she said.
Afghan Hands is a program vital to the success of the overall counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign. It is building long-lasting, positive partnerships with GIRoA, Afghan entities, and civilians, and demonstrating the long-term commitment of ISAF to build capacity and capability within Afghanistan and deny support among the Afghan people to insurgents. The program has the attention of top leadership and will be here for many years to come.