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Social Science Team Aids Army in Afghanistan

The first-ever human terrain team (HTT), a five-member group of social scientists, has helped the 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division reduce violence in eastern Afghanistan. The HTT, a new counterinsurgency “weapon,” is part of an experimental Pentagon program that assigns civilian anthropologists and other social scientists to advise combat units about cultural and tribal customs and beliefs.

According to the International Herald Tribune, Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, said that his unit’s combat operations have been cut by 60 percent since the HTT arrived in February. His brigade’s focus has shifted from kinetic operations to improving security, education and health care. Schweitzer tracks 83 districts in the five provinces—Paktika, Paktya, Logar, Ghazni and Khost—for which the 4th Brigade Combat Team is responsible. He reports that about 60 of them are now in “direct support” of the government, an increase of more than 20 districts from 2006.

The embedded cultural advisers have helped soldiers see events from the perspective of an Afghan citizen. In one village, for example, the HTT noticed an unusually high percentage of widows who had to depend on their sons for financial support. Because that burden could tempt the young men to become paid insurgents, the HTT developed a job training program for the widows so that they could support themselves.

In another instance, an anthropologist who saw the beheading of a tribal elder by the Taliban interpreted the event as more than just an act of intimidation. The HTT, reported the International Herald Tribune, saw that the Taliban’s goal was to divide and weaken one of southeastern Afghanistan’s most powerful tribes—the Zadran—and advised officials that if they could unite the Zadran, the tribe could block the Taliban from the area. Based on input from the HTT, Col. Schweitzer deployed small groups of paratroopers into remote areas, where they organized jirgas—local councils—to resolve long-standing tribal disputes and win the support of local populations.

The HTTs have been so effective that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has authorized a $40 million expansion of the program. Since September, five new teams have deployed to Iraq to join a team in the Baghdad area. Eventually, HTTs will be assigned to each of the combat brigades in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Citizens Helping. In a news briefing with reporters in Baghdad in late October, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, said that local citizens have helped reduce violence in Iraq. “Attack levels continue their downward trend that began in June and are now at their lowest level since January 2006,” he noted, and improvised explosive device attacks were “down well over 60 percent in the past four months.”

A citizens’ movement that began west of Baghdad in primarily Sunni Anbar Province, where citizens formed neighborhood watch groups at the urging of tribal and religious leaders, is crossing sectarian lines and moving into Shiite areas. Col. David Sutherland, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, in Iraq’s Diyala River Valley, told journalists in an online conference call that citizen volunteers have been crucial in cutting violence in half in the area that sweeps eastward from Baghdad to the Iranian border. “Unlike al Anbar, which is predominately Sunni, in Diyala we have 25 major tribes from all sects. … we also have over 100 subtribes within this province,” Sutherland continued. Locals are contributing in urban northwestern Baghdad, too, where Col. J.B. Burton, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, reported an 85 percent drop in violence since May. Lt. Col. Val Keaveny, commander, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), told the Boston Globe that information provided by citizens has contributed to a sharp decrease in attacks in the agricultural area on Baghdad’s southern border. His unit has lost only one member in the last four months.

In a news conference at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Richard Sherlock, Joint Staff director for Operational Planning, told reporters that casualties from enemy attacks are down by 77 percent in and around Baghdad and that overall casualties in Iraq have continued to decrease.

Combat Lifesaver Skills. Soldiers entering basic combat training will take a 7.5-hour combat lifesaver course so that they can administer immediate medical care in theater until a medic or doctor arrives or the wounded can be transported.

Recently redeployed soldiers have noted that the first 10 minutes are critical in saving a casualty’s life, so all new soldiers will learn to perform advanced first aid and potentially lifesaving procedures such as giving CPR, controlling bleeding or starting an IV and will be combat lifesaving certified before graduating from basic training.

Previously, the Army required that only 20 percent of the personnel in a unit be combat lifesaver qualified; those soldiers took a four-day, 40-hour course. The new course is a condensed version of that training. They will learn how to save a life and be assured that the soldiers around them have the same knowledge.

The combat lifesaver course offers a second benefit—stress inoculation. Introducing soldiers to artificial stress in basic training is thought to ready them for the stress of combat. Watching a newly trained person insert an IV into your arm or starting an IV for the first time on someone else is stressful and is directly related to the pressure soldiers will experience in the field.

Changes for Top NCOs. The Army has announced changes in how top NCOs will be selected and assigned. Promotion to sergeant major will now be tied to selection for the Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. Beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2008, the sergeant major selection list will not include junior, non-promotion-eligible master sergeants for early attendance at the school; only those who will be promoted will be selected to take the nine-month course. In addition, there will no longer be a separate command sergeant major board.

The FY 2008 selection board will have an extended promotion time line of 17 months. Beginning with the class that ends in the summer of 2010, all graduates will be promoted to sergeant major, and all must serve one year as a sergeant major before being selected for a command sergeant major position.

Master sergeants now will go through a personnel security screening program; once cleared, they will be eligible to be command sergeants major or sergeants major. The Army’s selection will be based on its needs.
Another new feature of the policy is that the most senior NCOs will be able to move back and forth from command sergeant major assignments to sergeant major assignments, increasing their flexibility and building experience. The Army benefits because it will be able to align command sergeant major selection and appointment with the selection of brigade and battalion commanders. Command teams will be able to train together at the Pre-Command Course at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The new policy makes it easier for command sergeants major and ser-geants major to track and predict their career progress. Because the Army will give more notice of selection than currently, the policy also allows families greater stability.

NCO Academies. The U.S. Army Ser-geants Major Academy (USASMA) has accredited the noncommissioned officer academies at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and Fort Richardson, Alaska, as Institutions of Excellence. The honor is the highest level of accreditation the Army can award. Of the Army’s 28 NCO academies, only those at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Campbell, Ky., share the distinction. USASMA and the Training and Doctrine Command accredit NCO academies every three years; USASMA inspects 16 areas during the accreditation process. More than 1,600 U.S. soldiers attend the NCO academy in Hawaii each year; another 1,200 soldiers take the warrior leader course at the NCO academy at Fort Richardson annually.

College Credits Now. The Army is working with colleges and technical institutions to allow soldiers to use their military training to earn credits toward a degree.

Lt. Gen. Ben Freakley, commander of U.S. Army Accessions Command, says the program, called the College of the American Soldier, will be administered through the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command and will probably start sometime in 2008.

The number of credit hours earned would vary depending on the complexity of the training.

For example, basic training would accrue 17 hours of credit; Sergeants Major Academy would be worth up to 45 hours. A bachelor of arts degree usually requires a minimum of 120 credit hours. A soldier could obtain an associate’s degree in six to 10 years of service or a college degree or technical certification (in a specialty such as welding) before retirement after 20 years of service.

Extending Basic Training. The Army has begun a pilot program that extends basic combat training (BCT) from nine weeks to 10 through mid-March 2008, the first change in length since 1998, when BCT increased from eight weeks to nine.

Additional combat tasks were ad-ded to the training schedule in 2004. This time, however, the training regimen will not be expanded; the extra week is designed to give drill ser-geants time to ensure individuals have mastered required skills before going on to advanced individual training (AIT).

One reason for conducting the pilot program is to determine what effect expanding BCT by a week will have on advanced individual training. Basic combat training will permanently become 10 weeks long beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2009. The period between the end of the pilot program in March and FY 2009 will be used to address any problems that may arise and to align graduation from basic training with starting dates of AIT.