Sunday, September 21, 2008

On team building and ass sniffing

Fort Riley’s floodplains have been an historic gathering point for two things: tornadoes and hastily assembled American soldiers. These days, FT Riley acts as gathering point for the Army, Navy, and Air Force Advisors (euphemistically known as Transition Teams) that will embed with and "coach, teach, and mentor" the Afghan and Iraqi Security Forces- police, army, and border police. TT Carnahan is one of these Advisors. You can read more about the Fort Riley Training Mission here, here, and here.

The Transition Team training is conducted on a FT Riley cantonment known as Camp Funston. The camp's namesake, Major General "Fightin" Fred Funston, was an early American counterinsurgency hero in the Philippines who captured the Filipino equivalent of Mullah Mohammed Omar. Your favorite satirist, Samuel Clemens, wrote about ol' Fightin' Fred in this essay.

The Camp's infamous history includes its distinction as the incubation site of the Spanish Flu which our doughboys took with them to Europe in WWI thereby bringing the Old World to its knees with our New World diseases. The next chapter in Funston's history included its service as a transition point for the US Army's Correctional Brigade which prepared convicts for the shock of civilian life. That sense of purpose seems to drive many of today’s training policies (read: parking) as it more closely resembles a minimum security prison than anything else. If you find yourself wandering too far from the days training area, be prepared to tie a section of twine to a bush and call out, "still shakin' it boss [sarn't], still shakin it!"

Rather than rehashing what has already been stated about the Advisor mission and its import, I’ll instead refer you to an important speech by Big Bobby Gates and an important proposal by LTC (ret) John Nagl, the godfather of that solidarity symbol you see at the bottom of this blog.

I'll write plenty on the art, intricacy, frustrations, and proud crucible of Advisors but today I'd like to muse on the craft of team building. You meet your team on the very military "DAY ZERO." It’s remarkably similar to sizing up your 3rd grade red rover team that was just randomly assembled by a few impressive looking 4th grade team captains. So, as a team minion you're faced with an important question as you survey the men that you will spend the next year depending on for life, limb, and eyesight: who the f**k are these guys? You start sniffing around your new best friends, hoping that you’ll like the aroma. It starts out innocent enough; you toss out the peacetime version of CHALLENGE/PASSWORD with movie quotes. It could be line from Hot Fuzz, or the always popular Family Guy reference. You sing a bar from Kim Jong Il's, "I'm so ronrey." You wait a few breathless moments for someone to take the bait and from the gaggle you hear a "Goddamn you Arec Bardwin!" Ahhh, this tour might not be so bad after all. 30 seconds later you're in Aggieville trying your hardest to pretend you’re seven years younger as you wear the college scene camouflage of hair gel and sideburns. College girls love high and tights! A couple of pitchers later, you know who's divorced, who's deep, who's loud, who's funny, and who's gotta chip on their shoulder. You're all best friends. Team building complete.

Of course, you’ll quickly realize that while common entertainment tastes are important and team dynamics a possible deal breaker, you can't spend all your time at those sticky-floored saloons. Soon you've migrated back to the real world of training and sober preparation. TT Carnahan, and anyone else who can form a complete sentence, knows that the US endeavor in Afghanistan hangs on a razor's edge. We've lost the war a little more every day since Tora Bora. Now 7 years on, it appears to be spiraling out of control. I'd say, flushed down the toilet, but there is no such thing as a flush loo for the vast majority of Pashtunistan's residents. This handy fact of life preserves the opportunity for us to fish a viable Afghan state out of the slit trench of Talibanization.

Our current sharpening focus may not be too little- too late, but it is certainly a dramatic 4th quarter drive. The precariousness of the situation has not translated to despair. Through his long and very personal familiarity with the Afghan Advisor Mission, TT Carnahan has noted an affinity and muted optimism for our Afghan counterparts and their promise through nearly every former Advisor. Surely the crippling corruption and deficit of nationalism, in all its forms, provides "challenges," but as Fletch and many others have reminded me, "this was the best job I've ever, or will ever have."

Ta-daa! Kip, here it is, off and running.

1 comment:

Bill and Bob's Excellent Adventure said...

"How you rike me now, Hans?!?"

You almost made me shoot coffee out of my nose! You really pegged the early team dynamics. Enjoy the Funkston experience.

I know that it's a challenge, but keep on blogging. I'm looking forward to reading your posts going forward. You've got some truly interesting times ahead of you, a lot of National Geographic moments, and plenty of "you can't make this shit up."

I'm looking forward to tracking your progress. Semper Gumby!