Handcuffed: The Burden of Institutional, Management and Leadership Problems on the AFPAK Hands Program

Handcuffed: The Burden of Institutional, Management and Leadership Problems on the AFPAK Hands Program

Tyrell Mayfield

“I would certainly have applied for it—and had a broken heart if I couldn’t be in it…”[i]                               

—General Allen on the AFPAK Hands Program

America has faced a pernicious, asymmetric conflict in Afghanistan for over a decade. In response, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has fielded several low-tech approaches in an attempt to tip the balance in their favor. Human Terrain Teams, Female Engagement Teams and the Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program (APH) are all DoD adaptations which sought to bridge the socio-cultural gap between the US and its technologically mismatched partner, Afghanistan. These efforts have stumbled into being, met with controversy and critique and, as is often the case with new initiatives, yielded limited tangible results and been fraught with failure. 

The APH program was founded in Sept of 2009 in an attempt to meet demands for greater continuity, expertise and a more persistent presence in Afghanistan. Today there are roughly 230 APH billets in Afghanistan and a handful in Pakistan which are collectively manned at approximately 85%. Since its inception, the program has involved almost 700 officers and civilians from across the DoD who now possess a wealth of experience which is quite different than their peers.[ii] [iii]

The DoD’s Conundrum

There would have never been a need to develop regional and cultural experts sought by commanders in Afghanistan had the DoD properly resourced and emphasized its various service level Foreign Area Officer (FAO) programs prior to 2001. A decade into the war, the DoD still lacks a cadre of field grade officers who are proficient in both the languages and cultures of Central Asia.[iv] The APH program is an attempt to bridge this capacity gap. While Hands have language and culture skills far beyond the DoD average they are by no means proficient. The APH program is a temporary bridging strategy that will not produce the programmatic and institutional changes required to solve this shortfall.

Many of the critiques of the APH initiative identified in early after action reports have been resolved, but a troubling number remain. The problems facing Hands today are not logistical or administrative; the program has figured out how to receive, train, deploy and field forces. Rather, Hands now face institutional, management and leadership problems which are a serious burden on the program’s effectiveness. The DoD has already committed to the APH initiative by programming for it beyond the end of the ISAF mandate. If this effort is to be successful the DoD would be well advised to address several key issues before any consideration is given to expanding it to the Pacific or into other government agencies as some have suggested. [v] [vi]

As the focus in Afghanistan shifts to a full-fledged advisory role, efforts like the APH program will become even more critical if the gains of the last decade are to be cemented. When there were 100,000 US military personnel in Afghanistan, 230 Hands represented a drop in the manpower bucket. When ISAF’s mandate expires and there are only 10,000[vii] (or whatever that number ends up being) troops left, the tooth-to-tail ratio of support to operational personnel will significantly limit the coalition’s ability to field advisors. A conservative estimate suggests it may take three personnel to field, support, feed, secure and administer a single advisor.[viii] This means that if there are 10,000 US forces in Afghanistan after 2014, a maximum of 2,500 would be doing actual advising work with Afghans. Of that 2,500, nearly 10%, will be AFPAK Hands. This makes the selection, assignment and management of those in the program even more critical. 

An Unanswered Call for Volunteers

While the APH program is a DoD initiative endorsed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, there is no funding associated with it and its manpower requirements are levied across all services. Selection of personnel for the program is viewed by the services as “paying taxes” and extinguishes any institutional inclination to recruit, screen and select the most qualified volunteers. The program has categorically failed to recruit qualified volunteers, relying instead on individuals offered up by their services non-voluntarily.[ix] This is an acknowledgement that the program is not properly endorsed or incentivized by the DoD, nor is it supported by the services. The result has been sadly predictable; hard-to-fill billets attract professional outliers, the hard-to-manage, and those whose careers have already significantly diverged from traditional paths. 

Management Shortfalls

Hands are assigned to designated billets through the AFPAK Hands Optimization Board (AHOB). The AHOB reviews the profiles of inbound Hands and attempts to match them with validated billets based on training, education, experience and language skills. This process has been significantly improved over the last two years, underwent another evolution in the spring of 2013 and should yield improved placement of Hands starting with the cohorts arriving in the fall of 2013. 

Despite improvements in the placement processes, the proper alignment of personnel and billets has been affected by the steady reduction in forces. The force structure at all levels of the ISAF mission is, and will remain, fluid until the ISAF mandate expires in 2014. Reorganization has resulted in some Hands performing functions which are no longer in alignment with COMISAF’s priorities or in compliance with APH billet validation criteria. Failure to address this situation will result in the continued misalignment of a low-density, high-demand resource as ISAF draws down and transitions to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission (RSM).

Leadership Challenges

Directorates and subordinate commands are reluctant to end tasks and even more hesitant to voluntarily release manpower. In the face of constant reductions in their forces they revert to a classic bureaucratic survival behavior—the hoarding of personnel. Instead of returning under-utilized Hands to the AFPAK Hands Management Element (AME) for reassignment into validated billets, some Hands are redirected into strictly staff and administrative functions which may meet the mission set of the directorate but fail to meet validation criteria for APH billets, and result in a specialized resource being wasted. 

These leadership challenges are known and persistent. Every ISAF commander since General Petraeus has issued clear written guidance on how to employ APHs.[x] These memoranda outline the proper employment of Hands but they lack guidance which directs commanders to release Hands which they cannot, or in some instances, will not properly employ. The memoranda assume a level of compliance from subordinate directorates and commands which simply does not always exist.

Because the AME does not retain operational or tactical control over Hands in theater they are unable to recall and reassign Hands without first gaining the leadership’s approval. The process to reassign Hands is protracted, inefficient and subject to undue command influence; requiring the very leaders who are hoarding manpower to agree to release Hands who are not employed in accordance with COMISAF’s written guidance. With limited political capital and no General Officer backing, the AME is often unwilling to fight to reassign Hands, or selective in their engagement with senior leaders based on the perceived probability of a positive outcome. The end-state is the same for the Hands in question; they linger in positions that do not meet COMISAF’s intent for APH placement or the billet validation requirements outlined by the program.

Lack of Institutional Memory

The Hands have created a persistent presence, but their knowledge is held individually.  Because they are not represented by a single division or organization within the ISAF architecture there is little institutional memory about what APHs bring to the fight or how to employ them. Instead, Hands take their experiences back with them while new leadership rotates into theater and must be educated on the program, its capabilities, requirements and limitations. Compounding the lack of institutional memory is the inability of the AME to properly manage cohort rotation to ensure that Hands go back into the same billet or at least the same institutions on their second rotation through Afghanistan. This prevents Hands from becoming true subject matter experts and fails to fully leverage the relationships and networks that were built during their first deployment. This process is arguably complicated by the rapidly changing mission, declining manpower environment and constant reorganization that ISAF endures, but Hands face the same challenges when they return for their Out of Theater (OOT) assignments as well.

OOT billets are intended to continue the development of the Hand as a subject matter expert by ensuring that they are “assigned key duties within organizations that are associated with Afghanistan and/or Pakistan.”[xi] The inconsistency in deployed billets follows Hands back to their OOT assignments where their skills are not consistently matched with their deployed experiences and OOT requirements.  The services, unhappy with releasing officers for four consecutive years, often infringe on the intent of the program by forcing Hands to serve in non-APH aligned billets during their OOT assignments or by competing Hands for command assignments and initiating their early return to core career fields. The manipulation of manpower assigned by the services to the APH program blatantly disregards the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff directive and degrades both the value of the program and the quality of Hands produced.

What Must be Done

The APH program must individually screen, interview and select candidates. The only new accessions at this point should be replacement Hands for those who have left the program early or completed their tours and perhaps one more cohort. A strict “volunteers only” policy must be implemented and the DoD should properly incentivize the program, through assignment preferences, special pay, bonuses, or other policies that will attract the right volunteers and help retain the ones it has. With a population of around five-hundred Hands to manage, the DoD can demonstrate its commitment to the program and its participants with minimal effort or cost.

Services should honor their commitment to the Chairman’s initiative and to the officers they release by allowing Hands to complete their tours without interference. The Chairman should allow the program to purge itself by immediately releasing officers who no longer wish to participate to their respective services. Finally, to mitigate these losses, those who desire to remain for a third tour should be allowed to do so. These three actions alone will improve the effectiveness of the program and the experience of deployed commanders who will receive committed volunteers who are dedicated to the mission.

The AHOB assignment process must be codified and strictly enforced. Billets must be evaluated and prioritized with an eye towards RSM requirements and then filled from most to least critical. This “troop to task” assessment is a time-consuming but critical element in identifying and validating billets. Once Hands are assigned, monthly APH reports must be closely monitored to ensure that Hands are being employed in accordance with COMISAF’s priorities and the APH billet validation criteria. COMISAF’s written guidance should be reissued so that it directs subordinate entities to release Hands to the AME for reassignment when a mission set containing APH billets is no longer required. Furthermore, it should empower the AME to realign Hands in accordance with the prioritized billet list without consent of the owning agency or directorate if required.

Conclusion

If the DoD continues to ignore the management and leadership issues facing the APH program it can expect more of the same: a comment stream a mile long and a program which oversells and underperforms due to mismanagement. Hands, volunteers and non-volunteers alike, have been asked to do strategic work often at great personal and professional risk. Overwhelmingly they support and believe in the program and work diligently to achieve the tasks assigned by COMISAF. The least that their leadership and the DoD can do is ensure that they are properly employed. Just as importantly, in an era of fiscal restriction the DoD should be equally concerned with ensuring that the time and money invested in training individuals for specialized tasks are responsibly leveraged downrange.  

One needs to look no further than individual service programs to see what can be done when services decide to recruit, screen and select their best and brightest for specific programs. The Air Force has no difficulty recruiting pilots and the Army does not draft people into Special Forces. The question remains: why is the DoD unable to find 500 volunteers for the APH program? The answer is simply because the DoD does not care enough about the program to properly incentivize and support it. While the DoD has learned to pay lip service to the value of “human capital” and “relationships,” it categorically refuses to realign itself in support of programs that do not field a weapon system, secure funding or deliver kinetic effects. This is the tragedy of the AFPAK Hands Program.

References

Allen, John R., “Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program Implementation Directive.” HQ ISAF, October 2, 2011. http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/career/language_culture/Documents/ COMISAF%20APH%20Memo%2002OCT11.pdf (accessed 29 Aug, 2013).

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Afghanistan/Pakistan Hands (APH) Program.” September 3, 2010. http://www.jcs.mil//content/files/2011-09/090811140102_Signed_CJCSI_1630_01_the_ Afghanistan_Pakistan_Hands_Program_(2).pdf (accessed August 28, 2013).

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “AFPAK Hands (APH) Program Brief.” (No Date).  http://www.jcs.mil/content/files/2013-03/031413101808_APH_Website_Briefing.pdf (accessed August 28, 2013).

Manea, Octavian and Lujan, Fernando, “COIN and Other Four-Letter Words: Interview with AfPak Hand Major Fernando Lujan.” Small Wars Journal (July 17, 2012). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/coin-and-other-four-letter-words-interview-with-afpak-hand-major-fernando-lujan (accessed August 28, 2013).

Miles, Donna , “‘AfPak Hands’ Program Pays Dividends in Afghanistan, Pakistan.” American Forces Press Service, January 4, 2012. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66671 (accessed August 28, 2013).

McGrath, John. J., “The Other end of the Spear: The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R) in Modern Military Operations.” Combat Studies Institute Press, Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, (2007). http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA472467 (accessed September 7, 2013).

Outzen, Richard, “Language, Culture, and Army Culture: Failing Transformation.” Small Wars Journal (March 20, 2012). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/language-culture-and-army-culture-failing-transformation (accessed August 28, 2013).

Petraeus, David H., “Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program Implementation Directive.” HQ ISAF, October 4, 2010. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/110408_0_P4%20Af-Pak%20Hands%20Program%20Signed%204%20Oct%2010.pdf (accessed August 29, 2013).

Small Wars Journal Editors, “Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?” Small Wars Journal (December 28, 2009). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/should-afpak-hands-be-south-asia-hands (accessed August 28, 2013).

U.S. House of Representatives. Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations. Building Language Skills and Cultural Competencies in the Military: Bridging the Gap.  December, 2010. http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=2361fa65-7e40-41df-8682-9725d1c377da (accessed August 28, 2013).

Walker, David, “Move the Af-Pak Hands out of DoD.” Small Wars Journal (January 28, 2012). http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=2361fa65-7e40-41df-8682-9725d1c377da (accessed August 28, 2013).

[i] Donna Miles, “‘AfPak Hands’ Program Pays Dividends in Afghanistan, Pakistan,” American Forces Press Service.  January 4, 2012, 3. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66671 (accessed August 28, 2013).

[ii] Miles, “‘AfPak Hands’ Program Pays Dividends in Afghanistan, Pakistan,” 2.

[iii] The APH Program has generated over 700 Hands, of which only 21 were enlisted members as of January 2012.

[iv] Richard Outzen, “Language, Culture, and Army Culture: Failing Transformation.” Small Wars Journal (March 20, 2012). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/language-culture-and-army-culture-failing-transformation (accessed August 28, 2013).

[v] Small Wars Journal Editors, “Should AF/PAK Hands be South Asia Hands?” Small Wars Journal (December 28, 2009). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/should-afpak-hands-be-south-asia-hands (accessed August 28, 2013).

[vi] David Walker, “Move the Af-Pak Hands out of DoD.” Small Wars Journal (January 28, 2012). http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/files/serve?File_id=2361fa65-7e40-41df-8682-9725d1c377da (accessed August 28, 2013).

[vii] Neither ISAF nor the US have released numbers to indicate the size of the post 2014 footprint. However, 10,000 is a commonly referred to estimate of the size of the US footprint for post 2014. A final number could vary widely. 

[viii] John. J. McGrath, “The Other end of the Spear: The Tooth-to-Tail Ratio (T3R) in Modern Military Operations.” Combat Studies Institute Press, Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, (2007): 83. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA472467 (accessed September 7, 2013).

[ix] Octavian Manea and Fernando Lujan, “COIN and Other Four-Letter Words: Interview with AfPak Hand Major Fernando Lujan.” Small Wars Journal (July 17, 2012). http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/coin-and-other-four-letter-words-interview-with-afpak-hand-major-fernando-lujan (accessed August 28, 2013).

[x] John R. Allen, “Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program Implementation Directive.” HQ ISAF, October 2, 2011. http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/career/language_culture/Documents/ COMISAF%20APH%20Memo%2002OCT11.pdf (accessed 29 Aug, 2013).

David H. Petraeus, “Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program Implementation Directive.” HQ ISAF, October 4, 2010. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/fp_uploaded_documents/110408_0_P4%20Af-Pak%20Hands%20Program%20Signed%204%20Oct%2010.pdf (accessed August 29, 2013).

General Joseph F. Dunford issued his Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Implementation Directive in the Fall of 2013. 

[xi] Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “AFPAK Hands (APH) Program Brief.” (No Date).  http://www.jcs.mil/content/files/2013-03/031413101808_APH_Website_Briefing.pdf (accessed August 28, 2013).

 

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Comments

An interesting article and understandable comments, all of which ring true. Having spent a year working on a similar programme for the British Army in Afghanistan, there are a couple of issues:
1. Both our Armies are still configured in traditional warfighting heirarchies and it is difficult to create a separate - albeit supposed to be reinforcing/enhancing organisation like the AFPAK hands and integrate it. A similar difficulty occurs when you try and configure a mission for warfighting/counterinsurgency but need to create advisor groups. It's a traditional debate - which way should the mission be set up - using traditional heirarchies (which understandly and naturally pull towards proving themselves on kinetic operations) or using an advisor construct with enablers to focus on developing indigenous capabilities - they require different skill sets and have different objectives (not necessarily exclusive) and dynamics. This issue has certainly dogged the ISAF mission, although recently the SFAAT model has provided a more dedicated advisor focus and more coherence - just in time for transition, indeed this organisational change is the strategy for transition.

2. The British Army developed two organisations - the DCSU Defence Cultural Support Unit to improve cultural understanding with a bunch of dedicated, junior officers who spoke Dari or Pashtu - exactly what was needed - some were more effective than others but the key question was how were they to be integrated and exploited? an organisational issue which was never entirely resolved. It is an expensive organisation - the comment on the services seeing it as taxes - is entirely true at a time of redundancies in the British Armed Forces. So more effort needs to be applied on how to use this expensive resource. That said, the cultural specialists were never entirely accepted by Afghans - as if they ever would be, as they were seen as spies - as they were used for intelligence.....The other organisation - the Military Assistance Group (MAG) was formed to add language skills, and dedicated advice over a year - thus providing greater continuity than the 6 month tour rotation required by British Army force structures, which most observers see as inefficient. Again without a General Officer sponsor or even joint buy in from the Joint Operational HQ, the officers had to be employed where they could add value in a range of advisor to SFAAT to staff/policy posts within RC SW or Task Force Helmand focusing on the various pillars of the ANSF, as the battlespace was cluttered with traditional Brigade or MEF structures, ANSF staff branches and extemporised Advisor Units - most of which were making a decent fist of the job anyway, if rather bouncing on the surface of the issue. MAG 2 is better placed having dedicated posts for their rotations and have been able to target institutional development - along with the SFAAT teams in a more dedicated and coherent fashion. The challenge is institutional and organisational as much as anything else. We could observe the AFPAK hands officers at work and see the challenges they faced - many as outlined in the article. None of the enhancements from AFPAK to DCSU to MAG has had the campaign changing effects envisaged, - their creation was over pitched to obtain the resources to set them up and the delivery markedly reduced by organisational fratricide, but all have added value and understanding and some uplift in ANSF capability, some compensation but it hasn't been easy for the officers to expose themselves to the obvious risks of Afghanistan - be deployed up to 24 months and receive so little from the organisations that sent them - of course that is the point partly - the organisations who sent them, didn't really want joint/extrinsic teams coming into their battlespace.
3. Creating further AFPAK hands to continue work in AFPAK for another decade or more is vital, and indeed the grouping needs to be extended to other US areas of interest - as indeed does the UK models of the DCSU or MAG (in some form either through the new Adaptable Forces Brigades or the Security Assistance Group or ideally, both). The challenges are obvious though......

I find it interesting that the Af-Pak Hands Program was never able to meet its targeted recruitment goals especially in light of the fact that in 2009 when I tried to volunteer for the program as a USAR Civil Affairs Officer, I was told that reservists were ineligible to participate. To me, this decision seems to be extremely shortsighted. Reserve and National Guard personnel bring a wealth of civilian and military experience which would be very beneficial to the overall goals and objectives of the Af-Pak Hand Program and would potentially increase the pool of volunteers were the opportunity afforded to them.

The article makes a lot of good points, and I think healthy discussion about the program is a positive thing, although I’m not hopeful for the structural changes recommendation, in the current environment of shrinking budgets and less and less focus and concern about Afghanistan. I have a small bit of insight into the program (That whole walk a mile in my shoe thing), and I can tell you that structurally, it is difficult to rapidly implement or modify the program, given the current lines of controls. The APH Program is like that picture of blindfolded people feeling an elephant, with many various interpretations of what are being felt, based on your position. In-theater, you have revolving door of leadership, so even if a given Hand has a good tour, there is no assurance that his/her relief will have a similar experience (almost likely they won’t). For OOT tours, each Service has their own rules, and given that OOT tours are not aligned with in-Theater returnees…you have another recipe for a different experience with each revolution of the wheel. I don’t have the answers by any stretch of the imagination, but in my humble opinion, had a central command, with fully manned, train and equip mission for all APHs been in place from the start (with in-theater and OOT tours control), things would probably have been more effective and positive for the program in general, but unfortunately, I think we all know that ship has sail. although, perhaps had it been a core command, it would have been easier to target for the headsman chop, or shave at the least…maybe that is good for some, but bad for others. I think a Selection Bonus would have made the program more desirable in the minds of some folks, but once again, in the current environment, the Language Proficiency Pay is all e are likely to see. We certainly don’t do what we do for money, but nothing like a good ole bonus to get the cheese line formed, quickly! Overall, I think as long as we continue to experience a absence of a clear strategy for how to force shape APHs in-theater mission, we will continue to get exactly what we get…complete hit or miss tours of for a given tour.

I try to imagine how thrilled I would be to see an "American Hands" program some dark day in the future if China ever felt their interests to be so at risk by a sitting US government that they would wage UW to leverage some dissident group into power who would prioritize those Chinese interests over the interests of the American people at large.

Of course this group would have no skills at governance, so once China helped them write a constitution that centralized all power in the new president (of their choosing, of course), they would need to deploy a vast contingent of bright young Chinese advisors to assist newly appointed leaders accross all aspects of the new government.

Frankly, I don't think I would be thrilled at all. I think I, and most of my peers, would find ourselves compelled to wage revolutionary insurgency against this new, illegitimate government, and resistance insurgency against their Chinese backers and advisors.

Afghan hands isn't a bad program. But it is a program that attempts to prop up a bad, and extremely provocative, strategy.

The bottom line is that there is no institutional buy in at any level. Stateside, the PACC “manages” the program with its educational “opportunities”, but the forces still manage the assignments of the individual Hand. Thus if you don’t get the right OOT billet, you are denied those opportunities. Out of Theater billets are arbitrary and are often just a place holder for the Hand. In theater, Hands are viewed as either “free chicken” or as trouble makers who just want to hang out in civilian clothes, grow beards and take tactical risks which could ruin a higher officer’s career. While our training, language capabilities and experience give us a greater appreciation for the operating environment, it is not so extensive as to make a senior leader take notice. Often the skills are denigrated of overlooked, because there is no buy in.
So, even if the program attracted “qualified volunteers” rather than “professional outliers, the hard-to-manage, and those whose careers have already significantly diverged from traditional paths” the lack of institutional buy in would soon relegate those so called “qualified volunteers” to professional outlier or hard to manage status. Good luck with that.

Is it possible, or even preferable, to put the APH program under DoS? Would they have a better understanding and appreciation of what these specialist can do and apply them accordingly?

I had my own brief experience with the AfPak Hands program, which is telling for how the institution values--or doesn't value--its Hands. The Air Force non-vol'd me for Hands in 2012, a couple years into the program when things were supposedly improving. I was getting set to go when they suddenly changed their minds because of some career timing issues, but those couple months were quite a journey.

How was I notified for this supposedly prestigious program? On the day I was returning from a deployment and looking forward to a happy reunion with my family, I received an auto-generated email from the AFPC (Air Force Personnel Center) robot with reporting instructions for something called Air Advisor Academy. I had to piece together what was going on during a series of frantic phone calls and Google searches while waiting to board my flight home. It was a pretty traumatic couple days, trying to enjoy the reunion with my family while figuring out how to break the news that our lives were about to change forever. We were eager to learn more, especially since the reporting date was just a few months away and we had to get to work immediately selling our our house and arranging the logistics of the move, but I literally spent WEEKS trying to call anybody at AFPC who could tell me what was going on. Emails and phone calls went unanswered, and I had to get progressively higher levels of commanders involved. I wasn't trying to get out of AfPak Hands, just get basic questions answered. During our search for information, we actually stumbled across an AfPak Hand resource page put together by a group of wives, because they had received so little information from their services. Two weeks after the first email, before anybody called or emailed me back, the AFPC robot sent me a SECOND e-mail changing all my reporting dates and derailing all our tentative PCS plans. When my commander finally got a hold of a Colonel with some decision authority, the Colonel testily told him that we needed to "trust the system."

I could talk about many other facets of this experience, but here is the bottom line: the CJCS called AfPak Hands his #1 manning priority, a line that AFPC was all-too-happy to repeat. But words are empty if the organization isn't structured to incentivize, utilize, and care for a new program. Granted, that's hard to do, but two years into AfPak Hands it appeared that the Air Force was barely trying. Personnel processes were being run by a B team of Majors on staff who wouldn't even acknowledge that those processes were broken. Leadership was a sucking vacuum. This was the worst treatment I've ever experienced at the hands of the Air Force, in a program that is supposedly picking the cream of the crop for one of the country's most important requirements. In that kind of environment, it's no wonder volunteers are hard to come by.

"The Air Force has no difficulty recruiting pilots and the Army does not draft people into Special Forces. The question remains: why is the DoD unable to find 500 volunteers for the APH program? The answer is simply because the DoD does not care enough about the program to properly incentivize and support it."

The answer is because nobody knows what they want from the APH program. The DoD knows what it wants from pilots, it knows what it wants from its SOF elements. McChrystal had a good idea - but he did not follow through and make his staff execute in a manner that would ensure that his intent was met. Petraeus stated that he supported the program - but guidance always boiled down to vague rules on beards and driving. Allen says he would have applied to the program - but while COMISAF he never took the time to ensure that his APHs were working towards coherent goals in direct support of COMISAF objectives.

If the APH program was producing results that truly impacted both COMISAF decision making and US south-central Asia policy decisions then DoD would care. A lot. But we do not produce those results. So what can we do? Mass effort towards specific desired effects. Take the next inbound cohort, have the AME-forward identify one or two COMISAF CCIRs that APHs can affect. Direct Hands that have AHOBed into relevant positions to concentrate effort towards this CCIR. Is this above and beyond their regular job? probably, but if you target relevance well then it is not so much more work. Probably zero extra effort. Give these Hands a suspense, what is the timeline associated with that CCIR and its attendant decision? Have the AME collect reports that speak to the decision. Put a decision recommendation in front of COMISAF that has quantitative and qualitative assessments based on a range of APHs across a variety of positions. Hands that have been reporting with an eye on that decision.

But we're not going to do that. We're going to continue with the shotgun approach to seeding Hands across AFG hoping that something useful happens. Pretty much the antithesis of strategic.

To achieve measurable results, one must first know what is expected of them. This can only happen when a commander visualizes his desired outcome, describes what he wants to happen and then directs action. This is basic leadership and it has been lacking for the Hand program from the very top down.

Sounds great, but there has been very littte analysis of the programs capabilities; past, current or future. It is a merry mixture of many different career fields from every service, with a total finger to the wind approach to evaluate personnel for in-theater and out-of-theater jobs. An engineer in the Army is VASTLY different from on in the Air Force, or for something like Finance vice Contracting vice Acquisition. The program needs a top-to-bottom scrub from the root concept to the execution phase, but that would require months of analysis and review, in addition to people who know what they are doing. Perhaps if ISAF or the PACC would direct a team of APHs to work on this full-time, there would be a chance, but I doubt there is any desire or will to do this. The problem is that ISAF has no idea what it wants from the program, and the strategic staff is too lazy to do the work to figure it out, but all one has to do is look at the whole effort in general to see that the way this program is going is par-for-the-course.

Wow…well said fellow Hand! The article is articulate, concise, and spot-on with many of the issues and problems that many of the veteran Hands have identified and fought to get changed, with very limited degrees of success. Unfortunately, you learn to shut up and color in the box, as our services chiefs have offered us up as sacrificial lambs to this altar (some pun intended, given the season). The fundamental problem with the program is the same as has been from the very start, each and every service has provide completely empty platitudes, as to how supportive of the program they are, while in the background, they have all been devising ways to do as little as possible to support the program, and most unfortunately the personnel assigned. Everything is deemed a “challenge” and “difficult in these tight fiscal times”, but the results are always the same, an uneven and jagged experience for deploying Hands, with a High Level of Variance in the results achieve. Even the most ardent and shining examples of the power of the APHs program in-theater (an OOT as well) are found to be nothing but shell games, when the hoods are looked under. They are many arguments that could be made on the organizational, programmatic and execution strategy that should have/could have been utilize and implemented for this program to have been a success, but most objective observers would have a very hard time making the case for the current program meeting that criteria. Some structural piece are in place to deliver on better and more intended results, but it would take are stronger and clearer leadership and vision than what I’ve observe from ISAF, CENTCOM, and the PENTAGON.

I’ve met a few APH bubbas and they, like the author, said things have improved since the program began but problems still exist. Prior to retirement, I looked into the program and would’ve gladly signed on except for the Out-of-Theater assignment part. Apparently, the only OOT areas an APH can be assigned are the Pentagon, CENTCOM, I think SOCOM, and maybe Leavenworth. I also looked into it a few months ago thinking that I could sign on as a civilian….but same problem.

Perhaps if DoD loosened the OOT assignment requirements, more would volunteer. I live near Indiana University and they have a Central Asia Studies Department. Surely an OOT APH could do his/ her CONUS tour there as a Central Asia expert/ instructor/ researcher…? This might allow that APH to maintain currency in language proficiency; not sure working in the Pentagon drawing up Powerpoint slides about GIRoA MOI corruption would…..but I admit I don’t know. Bottom line, if I could come home after an APH rotation instead of moving my family to a new location IOT accommodate the APH program, I’d volunteer……others probably would, too.

Additionally, as the drawdown continues, more ANSF units are going to be left without advisors. But some “high priority units” will continue to have military and contractor advisors (like the unit I’m currently with). Given the problems previously noted on SWJ regarding short-term advisory efforts, I think APH members can be effectively utilized in this particular role, especially if they are allowed to return to the same unit over multiple years.