Town Hall With Students Staff and Trainers at Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations

Press Availability
Jacob J. Lew
Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources 
Camp Atterbury-Muscatatuck Center for Complex Operations, Indiana
November 19, 2009

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: I want to start with a couple of thank you’s, thanking the team here at Muscatatuck and thank you, General Tooley, for arranging this visit. But most importantly, I want to thank the (inaudible) of you who are here in this training program. This is an important step in your preparation for a very important mission. It’s a mission where you’re going to be right there on the front line, working day to day in situations that have all the reality of what you see here and more so. And I’m delighted that we’ve been able to work with the Defense Department to put together a training program that introduces you to what it will look and feel like to engage when you’re at PRTs and forward-operating bases.

These are hard missions. These are time-critical and this is a time that matters. And there’s a danger involved. And I thank each and every one of you for your service. You come from a host of departments. There’s a lot of folks here from USAID and State, but there are also folks here from the Department of Agriculture, from the Treasury Department, and there’s about six other agencies of government where people like you will move through this training program.

The key to this whole mission is that it’s a civilian-military cooperation. Every place where we go, every mission we undertake is worked out together and it’s a team effort. This training is different from training that’s been done in the past because it reflects that team effort. Ruth Whiteside, who runs our Foreign Service Institute to train diplomats, can speak to the history of how different it is for us to be doing it here in this way, working together.

So I am going to kind of stop with those few brief opening remarks, because what I hope we can do over the next 10 minutes or so is have a conversation, talk to you about what you have experienced here at Muscatatuck, what questions you have that I can answer about the mission that you’re all engaged in, and as I sort of close my opening remarks, let me end as I began by thanking you.

This is really important work. It’s really hard work. We have a lot of confidence in all of you as you go out to Afghanistan to be able to make a difference. And here in a week and a day, when it’s a new beginning for the government there, it’s a time of hope for the people there, we can’t lose sight of the challenges. You’re going to be dealing with bureaucratic challenges, political challenges, security challenges, and people who may not always be motivated the way we would want them to be motivated. I have confidence that each of you can make a difference in the work you do, and I hope the training here has helped prepare you to go out and be as effective as we know you can be.

So let me stop there and open it to the kind of conversation that will be brief, but I hope can still give us a chance to have some conversation, and don’t be shy. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Secretary Lew, I’m interested to hear about the preparation on the other side in Afghanistan for the arrival of the civilian effort. And thank you for coming (inaudible).

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: The preparation is constant. There is – there’s actually a weekly meeting, a “SVTC” (teleconference) meeting, where all of the agencies that are sending folks to Afghanistan meet. I chair the meeting every week. We go through questions, ranging from are people identified, are they in training, do we have transportation, and is there a place for them to go and a job for them to do. It’s very much on our minds that these are – it does not make sense to send people if we can’t get them where they need to be with the tools they need and the mobility they need to get out and do the job.

I have a lot of confidence in the understandings that we have with the military leadership that they value the civilian mission as highly as they do the military mission. They view moving our people around so that civilians can get outside of the wire and have real meetings like the ones that you’re going through the vignettes to get some experience with, because you can’t do that if you stay on the base.

There will be moments when it’s challenging. There are going to be competing demands where we have to work through the normal pressures in a situation where it’s space-constrained, equipment-constrained. But I have confidence that there is the commitment from the top to make it work, and the challenge as you all of you go out will be for that to be working on the ground.

The thing I can guarantee you is you’ll have support if there are issues that arise, that there’s a very deep level of cooperation at the planning level and at the implementation level to make this an effective deployment.

There can’t be only one question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I have a question.


QUESTION: Well, I understand the value of this mission and it’s really wonderful to go and help the country of Afghanistan and especially the civilians play a great part there. My question is, you know, during this short period -- of course, you can establish a strong bond with the Afghani – Afghanistan people and try to help them initiate a project, write proposal, try to solve some of the problem. But in this short a time, I wouldn’t think it will be effective enough to complete the mission. And I myself hate that I’ll start something and leave it in the middle and then come back and somebody else will come after me, start from the beginning again.

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: One of the challenges in crisis and post-crisis missions is continuity of program. These are not programs where you have decades to do it, so you have to work intensely in a short period of time, but we have deployments that have not traditionally been long enough. One of the things about the mission, and what all of you have signed onto, is a longer assignment than, historically, civilians have been taking. The fact that you have made commitments for a year is a huge improvement in terms of continuity, from a situation where we would send civilians out for three months at a time. People can do a lot of good work in three months, but the number of transitions makes continuity very challenging.

So the fact that we’re in the process of building a civilian force from 320 to almost a thousand, and that will be, for the most part, full-year commitments addresses that issue right off the bat. I don’t think that we’ll get most people to sign up for two and three years, but we are encouraging people to make multi-year commitments.

I think we have to be realistic that these are difficult assignments, and if we make the standard that you can only do this work if you do it for two or three years, that will artificially limit the effectiveness of our ability to get people in the right place at the right time. On the other hand, we are very much going to encourage and support multi-year commitments.

We’re also going to try and stagger the turnover. We’re going to try and not have it be that everyone comes and goes on the same day. Part of the challenge in these transitions and the continuity is that the hand-off – it’s kind of like being in an American hospital on July 4th weekend. Everybody’s new. You don’t want to be sick in America on July 4th.

A lot of the turnover in programs like this has tended, because of the schedule of Foreign Service assignments – has been all at once, partially because we’ve been staffing up gradually over an extensive period. People’s years will end at different times. And we’re very conscious of it, and building in with Kabul – with our Embassy in Kabul – a plan to not have the kind of sudden transition that really does create a problem in continuity. The military has been very effective in a lot of places, and Foreign Service has been very effective in a lot of places with these kinds of short-term but very intense assignments.

I think going to a year for the basic assignment is a huge step forward. Having the transitions be smoother is a second one. And I think you put your finger on what is a critical challenge. These are not 12-month projects. The – many of the development projects that we’re going to be undertaking in the traditional development context take many years. We don’t have many years to show progress, because it’s a situation where if we can’t show progress quickly, the political reality on the ground won’t be there where it needs to be to keep moving forward.

But that doesn’t mean you finish the job. Showing progress and finishing the job are different. We need to be able to show progress quickly, and then have a realistic trajectory towards the kinds of objectives, and ultimately the transfer of responsibility, from international and American staff and military, to Afghans.

Each of you will be working closely with Afghans every day. When you go to a PRT or a FOB, you’ll probably be outnumbered 10 to 1 by Afghan civilians. And you will be trying not just to do the direct work that you do, but to be training them and preparing them to take over so that they can then do it, both in that place and in other places. That’s really the key to success and the leverage we get from a civilian program.

QUESTION: Train the trainer?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Train the trainer.

QUESTION: I have a question.


QUESTION: Yes, sir. In terms of national objectives, I know there’s been some at the national level of where and how we’re going to approach our strategy in Afghanistan. I have been (inaudible) watching the news since training. Just to know where we are on that, how’s that moving forward in terms of where the President wants to go or the Secretary wants to go?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Obviously, there’s been a very intense review process underway. For obvious reasons, I’m not at liberty to describe what’s happened in those meetings. And I wouldn’t predict exactly where it’s going to go because the President has not yet made a decision.

I think that the thing that I have found personally very encouraging about the review is – I’ve spent a lot of years in government, I’ve worked on presidents planning military engagements and civilian reconstruction. And I grew up in a decade when my youth was defined by a country at war. I’m very proud of the process that’s been undertaken, the role that each of us has been asked to play, and the way the President has driven it with a real focus on having the best understanding of what the challenges are, the best understanding of what the options are, and taking the time to do it in a thoughtful, considered way, because he’s aware – we’re all aware – that our soldiers are being asked to go into harm’s way, all of you are being asked to go into harm’s way. And we have to have the confidence that we’re doing it with a mission that we think is best designed as it can possibly be.

I think that’s what’s going to come out of this. And I think that that’s not to say the mission that is underway now necessarily will be radically changed. But the fact that there’s a kind of serious rechecking of do we have things right, should we change parts of what we’re doing, I think is the right way to undertake this kind of responsibility. There’s been no break in the action in the meantime. I mean, your colleagues who have been deployed over the last several months have taken up positions. We’ve almost doubled the numbers of civilians in Afghanistan since January. By the end of the year, beginning of next year, we will be tripling the number of civilians.

As a result of the review, I don’t think the work that you’ll be doing will change fundamentally. There may be some slight change of strategy about the places where we are and the number of places we are. But I think what will come out of it is a combination of a civilian and military strategy that is really best designed for success and to help the Afghanistan – the people of Afghanistan ultimately take over responsibility for many of the things that we’re doing.


QUESTION: Thank you, sir, for the opportunity. My question is related to the participating agencies in the mission. Are there any plans to expand the number of participating agencies, i.e., Department of Transportation?

DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: The Department of Transportation is already helping out with a number of functions, so they’re in the – not a great number, but there’s a handful of people from the Department of Transportation.

The way this interagency effort has been put together – and it’s worth actually dwelling for a moment on the extraordinary nature of this interagency effort. I mean, we all know that when you’re back in Washington, the boundaries between agencies can sometimes require a passport to go back and forth. It’s not always easy to do things across agency lines in Washington. This effort has been truly a whole-of-government interagency. From the very beginning of my involvement in it, the question has been: What is the mission, what are the core competencies we need, who needs to be on the team to get it done? And we’ve worried less about who was going to be in the lead here or there. It’s being co-led in some places. We’re shifting responsibility as appropriate.


We didn’t sit down and say, we need X, Y, and Z agencies involved. We identified – ultimately the 974 positions that we’re now filling are 974 specific position descriptions. Each of you was recruited because you have a core capability to help with one of those, or a number – a set of those missions. And that’s what makes it challenging to recruit civilians, because you don’t – you can’t just ask for a team of a hundred people who do agricultural work or a team of a hundred people who do rule of law work. If there’s more work for the Department of Transportation, my conversations with the Department of Transportation lead me to believe that they are fully prepared to be part of the effort.


I must say I have not encountered a department in the government that wasn’t willing to be part of the effort. Sometimes you have to escalate it to a level where people are authorized to make decisions to do things that are different than the way things have been done in the past. But I think that there is a shared sense that if we can help, we want to be part of it. And I know there’s quite a number of you here from the Department of Agriculture today. Each session there’s a preponderance from one or another agency. This group has gotten more than an even distribution of people from the Department of Agriculture. We’ve had a great partnership with Secretary Vilsack, with the Department, and with each of you.


And the thing I can tell you, when you go over to Afghanistan, is my observation on the ground, is that it is a real team. When you’re talking to someone, you don’t know if they’re from USAID or the Department of Agriculture; they’re on the team, and that’s the way it should be. And I think that what we’re modeling here in terms of civilian-military cooperation is something that is also civilian-civilian cooperation. It’s all too infrequent that we tell people we’re here because we’re with the Government of the United States. I think it matters less to say, I’m from Department X.


QUESTION: Do you have time for one more question?




QUESTION: (Inaudible.) This has been a great experience. I am really impressed by the spirit of training (inaudible). My question is whether this type of civilian-military (inaudible) training is – how it’s maybe integrated to other programs in (inaudible), non-U.S. forces, like in (inaudible), other (inaudible) NATO allies?


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, we obviously are training the U.S. civilians who are going over, so we’re not training the civilians from the many other countries who are providing them.


QUESTION: Right, but –


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: We are, though, assigning people to provisional team – provincial teams that are at bases that are managed by other countries. So I’m sure many of you will end up being on British bases, Dutch bases, bases for many PRTs and FOBs that are under the authority of other national programs.


There on the ground, when I was in Afghanistan, I saw extraordinary cooperation where the country of origin didn’t matter to the people on the team. It was sharing best practices and getting the job done. Practices do change from – when you move from one to another country control. And we – as you’re assigned to a base, we’ll have to help each of you understand what the rules there are or how you get the mobility you need, how the life support functions are handled. I don’t think we’re quite ready to take on the responsibility to train all the civilians from all the other countries, but we are ready to share best practices, and we have done that on a number of occasions where we’ve had visitors from other countries.


Haven’t we had a number of international visitors here, Ruth?




DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Yeah, a number of international groups have come here to see the training. And as with every other part of the mission, there’s been an effort to share knowledge and share best practices, but each country trains its own civilians.


So I’m – I hate to cut off any – but let me take one more. I’m going to be in trouble because of the schedule here.


QUESTION: And I’ll be very brief. I just wanted to thank you so much for this type of training. It’s been a heck of a week. I’ve gotten mud in places I don’t even – (laughter). But I cannot say enough about the military and our Afghan role players, the skills that they have given us this week, and the opportunity to fail or do good in a safe setting that I feel has set – is setting us up for success to help the Afghan build their capacity. And I really appreciate – just keep – keep up this type of training. It is so invaluable to civilians who are --


DEPUTY SECRETARY LEW: Well, thank you. And thank you to our team. (Applause.) I wish you all the best of luck and stay safe.


QUESTION: God bless you.


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