Afghan security forces are taking the lead in their nation’s security from U.S. forces, so Security Force Advise and Assist Teams, or SFAATs, were created to support the transition.
The teams are composed of officers and noncommissioned officers trained to advise and assist Afghan army and police units as they conduct security operations in their country. They have a robust capability to defend themselves, but their primary role is to help the Afghan units achieve levels of proficiency where they can lead and conduct independent security operations.
“I and the Warrior Brigade count it an honor to be executing this (Afghanistan) mission on our nation’s behalf,” said Col. Stephen L. Michael, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander. “Our teams are trained and ready to deploy and … (help) the Afghan Security Forces to stand up and take charge of their own security.”
The 10th Mountain Division trained its brigade combat teams to adapt to the SFAAT style of deployment throughout 2012 with joint training operations at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., the Mountain Peak exercise at Fort Drum, N.Y., and the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La.
“A year ago we began by planning to support (SFAATs) as a battlespace-owning combat team,” said Col. Dennis Sullivan, 2nd BCT commander. “Our rotation to the Joint Readiness Training Center in conjunction with 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Div. taught us many lessons regarding what support SFAATs need to perform their mission effectively.”
During the joint training, units used the same assets they will have while deployed. This ensured that before the Soldiers deployed, they would have a realistic understanding of how to operate as an SFAAT.
The 10th Mountain Division put the teams’ training to the test by conducting a best SFAAT competition between the 1st and 2nd brigade combat teams, which qualified them for their 2013 deployment.
“The planning took approximately four to five weeks to develop our concept (and) resource our lanes with the best instructors and training aids available,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Kaune, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Div. “We applied the 10-step training model to make sure we had a product that would challenge our SFAATs.”
Trainers, observer/controllers and role players were chosen from throughout the division for their knowledge of Afghanistan.
“We certified the instructor lane (officers in charge) based on Army standards and theater tactics, techniques and procedures. We made sure our instructors knew their business and selected our cadre based on experience and technical expertise,” Kaune said. “Furthermore, we appreciated the senior NCOs from 3rd BCT Spartans assisting as additional (observer/controllers) to check not only the trainees but also to assist with improving the lanes.”
The SFAAT competition focused on the skills the teams learned during multiple training exercises, and how they implement those skills in a deployed environment. Teams were graded on time of completion and execution of their knowledge throughout the events.
Broken down into different stages, the competition focused on medical skills, detecting and countering improvised explosive devices, communications, language and cultural awareness, troop movement and weapon proficiency.
At each station, the Soldiers were briefed on the situation, and how they would be evaluated. Multiple stages often required multiple skills, so no one station was focused on a single task.
The skills used at the medical site called upon the Soldiers to secure an area, assess and treat casualties and then ensure they were evacuated to a medical transportation site.
After completing the first event, teams moved to the counter-improvised explosive device station. Once a team arrived at the site, Soldiers were informed they had 20 minutes to tactically move up the lane and safely identify as many threats as they could, without endangering anyone on their team.
During the third event, instructors graded teams on how quickly they could set up and establish communications using several different Army systems. The teams were graded on correctly following setup procedures, transmitting and receiving data and overall timeliness of the completed objective.
After the communications portion, they tackled written and verbal tests for language and cultural awareness. This station required them to draw upon the knowledge they learned through all of their previous training.
The final tasks the teams faced were a timed, four-mile road march to a rifle range to be graded not only on their weapon qualification, but also their ability to assemble the M-9 pistol, M-240B Machine Gun, M-4 Rifle and M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon.
The winning team was team “Grey 1” from the 2nd BCT, led by Maj. Brian Roeder. Taking second place was team “Lucky 13” from the 1st BCT, led by Lt. Col. John Sherwood.
The goal of the Best SFAAT competition was to have the teams leave with increased confidence in their abilities and to identify areas to improve before their upcoming deployments.
“We have to ensure our SFAATs are able to survive and fight on the battlefield they are entering,” Kaune said. “Soldiers truly have to be a master of several trades in dealing with the civilian populace we are supporting in Afghanistan.”