Fort Polk continues to train new generation of Army combat advisors

FORT POLK, La. (KALB) - Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness Training Center recently hosted Fort Hood-based 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade, one of six combat advisor units the Army is standing up.

Soldiers in 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade from Fort Hood were at the Joint Readiness Training Center this month. | Photo credit: JRTC Operations Group

In one scenario, soldiers in 3rd Squadron, 3rd SFAB advise Afghan police and military to regain order after local elections in the fictional village of Marjani. The exercise simulates scenarios combat advisors might face while working with and training foreign counterparts, like the Afghan National Army.

"In the evening they had some run-ins with the Taliban in this area," explained Staff Sergeant Bryan Mclaughlin with 3rd Squadron. "So we with our counterparts are...we're helping kind of get the Taliban influence out of this village."

3rd SFAB's training marks the third combat advisor rotation at JRTC, which continues to evolve as each brigade becomes deployable. The unit's task is to work with allied or partner forces around the world.

"We will never go to war alone again," said Brigadier General Charles Masaracchia, commander of 3rd SFAB. BG Masaracchia added that the goal of the SFAB is to teach conventional forces how to plan and execute missions.

"What we're designed to do is conduct an assessment of the organization's capabilities and match that against the mission that they've been assigned to accomplish and then risk-mitigate that mission through providing coalition enablers to it."

Staff Sgt. Mclaughlin said advisors also need to be able to connect with people of all cultural backgrounds. "It's critical to the mission. If you don't build a relationship with your counterpart, it makes it very hard."

With orders to Afghanistan later this year, the Texas-based unit is building on lessons learned by 1st and second SFAB deployments. BG Masaracchia explained soldiers had 'three strikes' at JRTC to meet their training objectives, including insider threats--a danger any unit faces when working with a host nation.

"There are three different indicators that our soldiers have been trained to identify and if they do the right things they can mitigate that threat," said BG Masaracchia. "If they don't then they have a scenario that causes a little bit of pain for us and puts us into a process of reacting to it. To date, there have been nine different scenario based insider threats that we've run and the soldiers have done extremely well. The advisors have mitigated almost all of them and then the ones that we haven't we've had great AAR's (after action reviews) to learn from."

But JRTC isn't just helping write the playbook for modern American advisor missions, the British Army is taking notes. Captain Chris Miller with 2nd Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, will deploy with 3rd SFAB.

"I think the real similarity is the real focus on the green forces or host nation forces and getting them to do things in order for them to sort of operate independently in the future," said Cpt. Miller. "I think some of the key differences are in the way we deploy our advisors and perhaps the U.S. does it on a slightly more wholesale brigade-level way whereas we do it in kind of a more low-level small team deployments."

As the Army continues to re-define the next generation of American combat advisors, soldiers and leaders like BG Masaracchia are optimistic about their place in the unit's evolving story.

"We're building upon the advisors who came before us throughout the Vietnam and Korean wars as we re-standup a professional advising corps. This is probably one of my greatest accomplishments in my military career."

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