Provincial reconstruction teams: reservists playing major role in effort to rebuild Afghanistan.
PRTs are small, joint civilian-military teams that work with local leaders in various areas of Afghanistan. Their main objective is to strengthen the reach and enhance the legitimacy of the central government in outlying regions the country. To achieve this objective, PRTs and local leaders work closely with the U.S. State Department, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and various non-government organizations and international associations.
The first PRT in Afghanistan was created in Gardez, about 60 miles Kabul, in December 2002. Today, there are 20 teams, including six each led by the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Air Force Reservists serve on a number of 60- to 90-person teams, providing a safe and secure environment to help facilitate rebuilding efforts.
"Our teams are making a difference every day," said Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, commander of 2nd Air Force, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., the organization responsible for getting Air Force members trained for PRT missions. The 602nd Training Group (Provisional) at Keesler handles command and control for Air Force members. The Army's 189th Infantry Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C., is responsible for providing all combat skills training. The 189th conducts much of the teams' pre-deployment training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
PRTs are critical to the successful reconstruction of Afghanistan, General Flowers said. They strive to strengthen the legitimacy of the central government by facilitating provincial development, establishing enduring security and working hand in hand with the Afghan people throughout the reconstruction process.
"PRTs are comprised of Airmen with various AFSCs (Air Force specialty codes), each with a specific task under a common objective," the general said. "The three service components, with active-duty, Reserve and National Guard personnel, join together to accomplish provincial goals. This is a synergistic organization where the whole team is greater than the sum of its individual parts."
PRTs serve as the "eyes and ears" and "boots on the ground" at locations where international organizations might run into trouble from regional insurgents. They are key players in the counterinsurgency fight, working directly with provincial and district governments in order to provide security, conduct reconstruction efforts, promote economic development and empower sustainable governance.
The PRT concept recognizes that economic development and governance can't take place in areas lacking security. Therefore, a military presence is needed to maintain security in order for the legitimate government to provide basic services to people.
The varied PRT mission sets routinely take the teams "outside the wire" so they can interact with locals, train law enforcement officials, conduct quality control of construction projects, provide material assistance and humanitarian relief, perform information operations, mentor and partner with government officials to provide services to the people in the form of roads, schools, irrigation and health clinics, and deal with all aspects of civil society.
As part of a large international rebuilding effort, PRTs assist many agencies, but one in particular they work very closely with is the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID is an independent federal agency dedicated to delivering services to the outlying areas of Afghanistan. USAID has built more than 680 schools and donated more than 60 million textbooks to Afghani schools. In addition, the organization has created an accelerated learning program that has helped educate more than 170,000 students.
"These interagency partners are vital to the success of the PRTs," said Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Eric Hommel, commander of the PRT Panjshir. "Simply put, we could not do what we do without the talents we, both military members and civilians, bring to the mission."
As a PRT commander, Colonel Hommel is responsible for building and leading a team made up of a diverse group of people.
"The PRTs are comprised of multiple operational specialties across the Air Force and Army," he said. "In addition, our teams are made up of Airmen and Soldiers from many different military bases. In essence, we have to take individuals, bring them together in an unfamiliar environment, teach them unfamiliar tasks and create a functioning team."
Colonel Hommel is one of three Reserve lieutenant colonels who have completed the rigorous training program required of PRT commanders.
"I am proud we selected and trained three Air Force Reserve officers to serve as PRT commanders," General Flowers said. "This is a great example of Total Force Integration throughout the Air Force and armed services.
"You will see the same level of professionalism from these individuals as you would from any other deployed service member. They will receive the same support as any active-duty commander while in the AOR (area of responsibility). You will not be able to differentiate between teams with Reserve leaders and those with active component officers. As a Total Force, we are truly one team fighting one war."
PRT commanders must first go through an Air Education and Training Command-sponsored squadron commander's course before attending the Army's PRT commander's course. After finishing the Army course, they go to the AOR to shadow the commander they will be replacing and receive some hands-on training. They then return to the United States and train for three months with their team members at Camp Atterbury.
"What my team and I experienced during the training was a mixture of some excellent weapons and basic soldiering skills and some lackluster attempts at realistic training scenarios," Colonel Hommel said. "Many times the onus of training fell on the team itself. My team did a great job of taking the initiative and conducting hip-pocket training."
General Flowers and his team are constantly looking at ways to improve the training PRT members receive. One area they are concentrating on now is the language barrier.
"Pashto and Dari are difficult languages for our Airmen to use and learn," the general said. "This is just one area we are researching to determine an appropriate way forward to better prepare our PRTs with language training.
"Additionally, we are moving to capitalize on experiences and lessons learned by embedding former PRT members in the cadre to train the next generation of PRTs. We are also working closely with the State Department to develop a program to individually interview key PRT team members, civilian and military, to refine training and improve effectiveness."
General Flowers and his team work so hard to improve PRT training because when they deploy, PRT members literally put their lives on the line every day. Throughout the years, several PRT members have lost their lives while helping to build a better Afghanistan.
"It is unfortunate when we incur losses," General Flowers said. "We do everything within our ability to minimize risks and take proper precautions while allowing the freedom to execute missions.
"The best thing we can do to protect our deployers is to ensure they are properly trained, equipped and prepared to deal with the most current enemy tactics, techniques and procedures. The 189th Infantry Brigade trains our PRT members, and they continue to do an outstanding job. Lessons learned from AOR experiences have been incorporated into every new evolution of PRT training, and we can expect the same for future rotations."
Like with all Reservists who deploy, PRT members who leave home to perform a global humanitarian mission require family members with an open heart and mind. Families must be supportive and strong while service members are away for training and eventually deployment to a dangerous AOR.
"I'm very fortunate to have a family that understands the importance of the PRT mission and the reasons for the time and commitment to training," Colonel Hommel said. "As all of us know from previous deployments, the strength and the work of those left at home is essential to the success of deployments for the military members.
"My family has always served as my source of motivation. But, I also realize that I have other 'families' that motivate me during these times. I receive motivation from my Air Force Reserve family and as a citizen of the most benevolent country on earth. I'm truly honored and humbled to have this opportunity to lead some of the finest Americans on a mission to help the Afghan people take control of their lives in order to live free from fear and oppression."
(Mr. Abalo is a Palace Acquire intern working in the Headquarters AFRC public affairs office at Robins AFB, Ga. Also, Marco Finley, a summer intern at HQ AFRC, contributed to this story.)
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|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2009|
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