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NEWS | Feb. 13, 2012

29th ID Soldiers in Afghanistan serve at National Military Command Center

29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

Five officers from the Virginia and Maryland National Guard, part of the storied 29th Infantry Division's 65-person deployment to Afghanistan in the fall, are assigned to Afghanistan's National Military Command Center where they advise and assist on national military issues.

One such officer is Maj. David “Gavin” Boyd, a Virginian who works as an associate laboratory director with the Drug Enforcement Administration back in the states. “When I was told last May that I would be working at the national level operations center, I was excited,” said Boyd.

Here Boyd works “shona-ba-shona,” the Afghan phrase for shoulder-to-shoulder, with three Afghan liaison officers from the Afghan Air Force. Although a Medical Service Corps officer by trade, he has quickly made an impact at the center.

“I’m not an aviator, but my overall experiences and training as an Army staff officer have given me a strong foundation. With a little assistance from my Afghan counterparts and other aviation advisors, I got up-to-speed in a few weeks and now am comfortable with my role here,” said Boyd.

This is not the first taste of Afghanistan for all of the team. Maj. Jon Black, from Salisbury, Md., was here two years ago advising Afghan police at the local level. “I had to make some adjustments after I got here this time,” said Black. “My experience before was more of in-the-field working with front-line police officers. Now I’m working at the strategic level with senior Afghan officers.”

Lt. Col. Chris Cole, a Maryland native, serves as the deputy for the NMCC Afghan National Security Forces Development team, values the experience that Black and other members of the team bring to the mission.

“Jon’s experience was a great asset for our team,” Cole said. “Everyone kept asking him questions all during our train-up. He helped us get in a good mindset, and calmed a few nerves.”

At home, Black works as the safety director for the American Paving Corporation Highway Construction Company and is a volunteer assistant chief fire fighter for the Salisbury Fire Department. At NMCC, he works as the senior watch keeper and logistics advisor.

“My background in operations has helped me tremendously in my role as watchkeeper,” says Black, “but I’ve had to grapple a bit more with the logistics part of my job.”

Helping the Afghans to take advantage of information systems is Maryland native Maj. Galo “Rob” Bravo.

“The Afghan Officers I work with are intelligent and motivated, but computers are something new to many of them,” said Bravo. Fortunately, his work back home at the National Guard Bureau has equipped him with the necessary computer skills to have a positive impact here. “I spent the first couple of months just observing and trying to take everything in,” he said. “Now I am involved in several important initiatives to help my Afghan co-workers increase their situational awareness through the use of IT systems.”

Bravo is helping the center stand up a vehicle tracking system that displays location and type of vehicles in the Afghan Army. “Army commanders always want to know where their Soldiers are. This system provides that situational awareness,” Bravo said.

Maj. Patrick “Chase” Burnett, from Maryland, works directly with the Afghan personnel staff, corps liaison, and plans officers to develop various high profile personnel reports including casualty, absent without leave, and strength reports. Burnett also provides guidance and recommendations to the senior advisor at the center on team composition, evaluation reports and awards.

“I have worked personnel management back in the Maryland Guard, so I feel like I am making an immediate and relevant impact,” said Burnett. “Learning here is a two way street. I tell them about policy and process and they tell me about patience and endurance.”

When not working personnel issues at the center, Burnett is developing quite the reputation as a soccer player on the NMCC intramural team. Considering the international flavor of the team and the league, he had to step up his game and is now considered a potent force on the field.

Cole, who is employed as a Facilities Management Officer for the Maryland National Guard, is directly partnered at the center with the director of operations, Col. Ramani Qadir.

“It’s fulfilling to be in a position where we not only train and advise, but also help with real time Afghan National Security Force operations. We help bring the coalition forces together with our Afghan partners,” said Cole. “My experience on a General Staff back home has helped me to understand what a Joint Operations Center should do.”

The Afghan colonel has a great reputation as a knowledgeable and efficient officer.

“I just try to show Col. Qadir different options, different ways of doing business,” said Cole. “Sometimes he takes my advice, sometimes he doesn’t.”

And that is all right with Cole. In addition to working with Qadir, Cole has also worked as team chief, acting deputy director and acting director.

“It’s a team effort,” said Cole. “It is exciting to work here. It’s a diverse job and you get to work with such a diverse group of people.”

The 29th ID advisors are now four months into their jobs and have assisted the Afghans with providing security for several significant events, to include a traditional Aghan leadership council, known as a Loya Jirga, the dedication of the Ghazi Olympic Stadium, the dedication of the Kabul Public Library, and the opening of the Parliament.

With each completed operation, the Afghan National Army takes over more and more responsibility for its own security. “If we do our job right, we’ll work ourselves right out of a job,” Barnett said.

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