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KABUL, Afghanistan – At Forward Operating Base Shank, Task Force Brawler, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade’s newly created civil affairs team supports ongoing counterinsurgency by helping remote villages in the mountainous regions of eastern Afghanistan.
The TF Brawler commander, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Ault from San Dimas, Calif., saw a need for a section specifically tasked with identifying the needs of small villages isolated from major urban areas. After identifying the needs, the team, led by U.S. Army Capt. Douglas Gray, an Ojai, Calif., native, finds ways to help solve a village’s problems.
The most effective government program for the TF Brawler civil affairs team is the Commanders Emergency Response Program, which was first introduced to Army commanders in 2003.
The goal of the program is to win the trust of the civilian population and promote civil infra¬structures in Afghanistan. It provides U.S. governmental appro¬priations directly to operational and tactical force commanders, enabling them to meet emergency needs of civilians in support of humanitarian operations.
The program began in Iraq, with the intent to provide local commanders the ability to fund small infrastructure projects. It receives oversight from the Coalition Provisional Authority and is budgeted from money seized during the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts. The amount of funding through CERP is determined by command level – TF Brawler can apply $5,000 toward any small-scale project.
Unlike most other programs in the Army, CERP spending allows a commander to decide how the funds are spent, as long as it falls within prescribed guidelines. For example, CERP money can be used to help improve an irrigation system, refurbish public buildings, purchase medical supplies or build a school.
“The CERP funds have really helped the schools,” said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Russell Stacy from Canyon Lake, Texas, civil affairs noncommissioned officer in charge. “Most villages don’t have an effective school system in place, and therefore most schools don’t operate with the necessary supplies like books, paper and pens. [CERP] helps purchase these needed supplies, and that helps with providing a better education for the children.”
Connecting with the community and earning their trust was another issue for TF Brawler. Fortunately, the successful partnership with the task force’s ground unit and an Afghan National Army reconnaissance company provided a bridge between TF Brawler and the villagers.
“It is our partnerships through combined-action initiatives that have made us successful,” said TF Brawler executive officer U.S. Army Maj. Craig Halsey from Warrensburg, Mo. “Our partnerships with the ANA company, Task Force Nashmi from Jordan, the Czech Provincial Reconstruction team and the Afghan National Army Air Corps have provided the means to influence the battle space. The effects have been by, with, and through our partnered forces.”
Armed with government-backed program funds and an American-Afghan partnered security force, the TF Brawler civil affairs team can now effectively enter a village, have a key leader engagement with the village elders and determine needs versus wants and then later return with the necessary items.
TF Brawler’s first successful application of CERP funds was to purchase and distribute supplies to a local village school. English-to-Pashtu dictionaries, pens and paper were the most requested items.
The next project brought buckets of paint, brushes and rolls of carpet in an effort to refurbish two mosques that were still in disrepair from the Soviet occupation.
“Mosques are the central hub for an Afghan community, and the state of the mosque reflects the spiritual state of the community,” said TF Brawler chaplain U.S. Army Capt. Abraham Sarmiento from Cleveland, Tenn. “In the Muslim religion, the mosque is a place that is visited frequently, where the people go to rekindle their spiritual strength. For Task Force Brawler to aid in the refurbishment of a mosque displays to the villagers that we understand its importance to them, and that we respect their beliefs.”
Medical care in the remote regions of eastern Afghanistan is another issue for civil affairs to tackle. Most of the doctors in Logar province work in more urban areas. Outlying villages have little-to-no medical facilities available. The team coordinates for American and Afghan medics to set up one-day clinics where CERP-purchased medicine is distributed.
“Because of the CERP funding, we were able to provide the villagers with basic necessities,” said TF Brawler flight surgeon U.S. Army Capt. Caton Hill from Ada, Okla. “Everyday items we take for granted, like shampoo, toothpaste, even baby formula are much needed items in those remote places. The [CERP] program allows us to purchase these things for them; that, to me, is a potent effect.”
In some cases though, the village elders ask for something either out of the scope of CERP or a project that cost more than the $5,000 allotted. If this happens, the civil affairs team shows villagers the necessary steps to file requests through provincial government offices.
For example, one village asked the team to contact a local contractor and force the company to complete an Afghan-government sponsored project previously started at a local school but never finished. After a little research, the team provided the village elders a phone number where complaints could be registered with the provincial government.
In the four months since its conception, the TF Brawler civil affairs team has delivered school supplies for more than 1,000 students, distributed medicine to more than 900 villagers, delivered more than 96,000 pounds of concrete for irrigation improvement projects, and purchased enough carpet and paint to refurbish three mosques.
However, the most important statistic is the one village that now attends weekly provincial meetings, said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Evan Mace from Tallmadge, Ohio, assistant civil affairs officer.
“The villagers are taking a very proactive role in their own development by working with the leaders of the provincial government,” said Mace. “Our main goal has been to make these villages non-dependent on aid from coalition forces. In this one village, it appears we are having success with that.”
TF Brawler and its civil affairs team hopes to someday work their way out of a job. By empowering the local populace to address their own issues with the government of Afghanistan, TF Brawler works to accomplish a goal Ault set down from the onset of the mission: that the task force make a difference by creating long-term effects in the battle space.
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