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SFAAT: The next step in Afghan independent operations

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With the advent of 2nd Security Forces Assistance Brigade from 2nd Brigade Combat Team for the brigade's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, several small groups aptly named Security Forces Advise and Assist Teams have formed as the workhorse of 2nd SFAB.

The SFAAT mission is to advise and assist Afghan National Security Forces, such as the Afghan National Army, Afghan Border Patrol, Afghan National Civil Order Police and Afghan Uniformed Police, as they transition from being partnered with coalition forces to being able to operate on their own.

"The mission of the SFAAT is to advise our Afghan counterparts we encounter," said Capt. Derek Atwaters Sr, the executive officer and logistics officer for Gray 1 team. "We are not to force our ways upon them, but we are to give them maybe a little better way of doing things."

Atwaters explains that he has been learning a lot about the Afghan culture and how it differs from the way we operate our forces.

"From what I have been learning since being part of the (SFAAT) team is that there is a lot of coercion," he explains. "Instead of there actually being a system, they barter; 'I will trade you this for that.'"

The right approach is essential for gaining trust and building a good rapport with the Afghan counterparts the SFAATs will be working with.

"(The barter system) is the type of life style they have had," Atwaters continues. "But if we start out with the right rapport with the right leaders who want to understand our guidance then we can help them fix the problem."

SFAAT teams are staffed with 10 -18 individuals from different sections throughout a battalion. Each member brings his own expertise to the group and will share that experience with their Afghan counterpart.

1st Lt. Andrew Baer is the personnel advisor for Gray 1 team. Not only is he the team's personnel officer, who takes care of various internal issues, he will be advising an Afghan counterpart in the Afghan Border Police on how to address such problems on their own.

"My specific role is as the personnel advisor," he explained. "I am responsible for all personnel issues whether it be pay, health or attendance. I am taking the expertise I know and I will be helping my Afghan counterpart better understand how these issues are important in the mission planning process."

SFAAT Gray 1 will be partnered with members of the Afghan Border Police. Before training at the National Training Center Sept 20 through Oct 16, they had the opportunity to mesh in a SFAAT training environment at Fort Polk, La last September. Although there are a few SFAAT teams in Afghanistan already, the concept is new, so the training is broad and incorporates cultural awareness and language along with logistics, tactical operations center procedures, security operations and how to advise the Afghan counterparts.

"Down at Fort Polk, we received some very realistic training when it comes to engaging with our counterparts, running into issues, filling out documentation and putting plans together," said Atwaters. "This training gives us an understanding on what kind of barriers that we will face when we get to Afghanistan."

The SFAAT teams will not be operating alone. They will have the support of their battalion and companies which, in the brigade reset, became a Battle Space Integrator and Cross Functional Team respectively. The SFAAT will have the assets they need to accomplish their mission.

Each SFAAT team has a security force with them. The role of the security force is vital to the safety of the SFAAT during all missions down range. It is important that they are included in the planning of the missions.

"The SFAAT and SECFOR are a symbiotic group. We are integrating them with us so we are one," said 1st Lt. Michael Van Beek, the operations officer for Gray 1. "We tie them into the mission by telling them what the goal of the mission is anytime we do an interaction with our ABP counterparts so they can help the overall mission, not just be our security."

Female Engagement Teams will also be utilized by the SFAAT. As the title implies, these teams will engage Afghan females because cultural beliefs dictate how women are addressed in Afghanistan.

"The FET teams are a great enabler," explained Van Beek. "Having female (Soldiers) integrated in our team is vital for searching females for (contraband). It is absolutely essential because an Afghan female may have something on them and we need the FET to search them."

Training at NTC has proved to be a place to work out the kinks for SFAAT Gray 1, who is supported by 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment.

"Being on the SFAAT team has been a great learning experience, said Van Beek. "The team is growing the longer we are here (at NTC). As we go through the situational training exercise lanes, we have a better cooperation between all the other SFAAT teams and we have been able to bring the overall mission together."

"We are definitely improving; I think we will be prepared by the time we go to Afghanistan. We have a great team," Van Beek concluded.

Article by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Bunn (10th Mountain)