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Aussie diggers: building partner capacity

Posted By on September 12, 2016 @ 14:30

Image courtesy of the Australian Government Department of Defence

For well over a century Australian soldiers have been deploying offshore on combat operations. It could be argued, though, that some of the Army’s most valuable and enduring contributions in conflict have been building local capacity through training.

The Australian Army Training Team Vietnam [1] (AATTV) is arguably the most famous. ‘The Team’ as it was affectionately known, was raised in 1962 and departed Vietnam in late 1972 after the 1st Australian Task Force (1ATF) returned home. Being Australia’s longest-serving unit in Vietnam wasn’t the AATTV’s only claim to fame; with four Victoria Cross recipients, it was also the most decorated.

Since the Vietnam War, Australian soldiers have been actively involved in training missions all over the world.

A major part of Australia’s Afghanistan campaign over the past decade has been advising and assisting Afghan National Security Forces undertake counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban.

Around the same time, from 2004 until mid-2008, the Australian Army Training Team Iraq [2] (AATTI) served in the Middle East. The AATTI was responsible for training elements of the new Iraqi Army as part of Australia’s commitment to the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort in Iraq.

Last year I had the privilege of commanding the most recent training effort in Iraq under Task Group Taji. My team’s mission was to build the Iraqi Army’s capacity [3] for warfighting operations against Daesh [4]. Task Group Taji is now in its third rotation and if the rapid decline of Daesh in Iraq [5] is a measure of effectiveness, the mission is proving successful.

While training missions rarely attract the profile of combat deployments, the Australian Army has a strong and significant history of training partner forces on operations and exercises. Training missions aren’t easy but are strategically important and, when done right, represent a strong return on investment. The current training mission in Iraq is a good example; diggers operating at the tactical level are having a strategic impact against a global Islamist terrorist threat.

Australian soldiers have a proud tradition [6] of training and mentoring foreign forces. Feedback from coalition leaders has reinforced the Australian Army’s good reputation for training. US Commanding General of the Combined Joint Force in Iraq, Major General Richard Clarke, told Task Group Taji as they departed theatre in December 2015 that ‘The 71st  and 76th brigades all came through Taji and were trained by you and now they’re driving Daesh out of Ramadi and they could not have done that without you [7].’

So what makes Australian soldiers effective trainers?

First and foremost, our soldiers are professional and mission-focused. They’re also patient and understand the importance of developing rapport and building relationships. There’s no better way to build rapport than to ’break bread’ while experiencing host-nation hospitality and culture. Whether it be sharing chai before training, or Iftar [8]—the evening meal to break the Ramadan fast—after training, Australian soldiers understand the importance of immersing themselves in the local culture.

Australian soldiers balance the need to be firm with training standards while maintaining a friendly demeanor and open mind. Our trainers are empathetic, which isn’t difficult when the families of soldiers they’re training live in Daesh-controlled territory. Shared stories help provide context; in this, we learn as much from those we are training as they do from us.

This more relaxed approach to soldiering doesn’t mean letting down your guard or becoming too familiar with trainees. It does, however, mean showing a human side and cementing the bond of the arms professional. Compassion together with understanding goes a long way when trying to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers, particularly in an embattled country like Iraq.

Australian trainers promote high performance through encouragement and reward [9]. In Iraq, for example, we presented a certificate to the best performing jundi (soldier) each week. This simple gesture promoted pride amongst the group and encouraged all trainees to strive for excellence. I met Iraqi soldiers who still proudly carried in their wallet certificates earned from AATTI training a decade ago.

Simple things like sharing hardships in training are important, particularly when conducting fire and movement drills on a 50 degree Celsius day or on muddy ground following a torrential downpour. A positive approach that espouses strong leadership, loyal followers, and cohesive teamwork is a sound formula for military success. It works for us and it resonates with those we train.

Most Australian soldiers wouldn’t willingly choose a training role over combat. But training is important and our soldiers have learned a lot about the art of war from training others.

Developing local capacity and confidence to fight their own battles, protect their population, and secure their own borders and territory is critical to the long-term success of the Iraqi fight against Daesh.

Training may not be high-profile but for the partner force it can be an essential combat multiplier that instils confidence and enhances capability. Importantly, it might just give them the ability to win the war and save their country.

Article printed from The Strategist: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au

URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/aussie-diggers-building-partner-capacity/

URLs in this post:

[1] Australian Army Training Team Vietnam: http://www.aattv.iinet.net.au/

[2] Australian Army Training Team Iraq: http://dev2.aatti.org/

[3] build the Iraqi Army’s capacity: http://news.defence.gov.au/2015/03/04/australian-defence-force-to-prepare-troops-for-iraq-mission/

[4] operations against Daesh: http://armynews.realviewdigital.com/default.aspx?iid=131156&startpage=page0000002#folio=2

[5] decline of Daesh in Iraq: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/06/18/world/middleeast/isis-control-places-cities.html?_r=0

[6] proud tradition: http://defence.gov.au/Publications/NewsPapers/Army/editions/1352/1352.pdf

[7] they could not have done that without you: https://news.defence.gov.au/2015/12/05/iraqi-training-handed-over-to-next-rotation/

[8] ‘Iftar’: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-religion-ramadan-iftar-idUSKCN0ZK11A

[9] encouragement and reward: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/we-can-see-progress-what-australian-forces-are-really-doing-in-iraq-20160117-gm7vtp.html

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