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Navy officers head to Afghanistan to join PRT teams

ARLINGTON, Va. — Afghanistan is a landlocked country. It has only a single navigable river, the Amu Darya, and its largest lake, the Hamun-i-Helmand, is slowly drying up.

In other words, there’s not much there for U.S. sailors.

But Afghanistan has captured the imagination of some in the Navy, including six officers who are on their way to take over six of the 12 Provincial Reconstruction Teams that the U.S. military has agreed to oversee in that country.

Cmdr. Stephen Hartung, an F/A-18 fighter pilot, said he volunteered to lead a PRT as soon as he learned the Navy was seeking officers for the job.

“I’ve been trying to go into theater (in the Middle East) for over a year now,” Hartung, told Stripes on Friday. “I’m a big believer that what we’re doing there is the right thing, and I’m a big believer that actions speak louder than words.”

The teams were founded in 2004 and are designed to be mobile goodwill ambassadors for coalition forces, using their transportation, logistics and communications capabilities to access the most remote Afghan villages.

Once there, the specialized personnel can hold medical, dental and veterinary clinics, and help build roads, wells, schools, irrigation systems and other facilities that will improve life for Afghans who have known only war and poverty for generations, Hartung said.

The key to accomplishing these projects is a PRT commander’s ability to work closely with Afghanistan’s new government, as well as the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development and other U.S. agencies, the United Nations, and nongovernment organizations, said Cmdr. Michael Horan, one of the six Navy officers chosen as PRT leaders.

Although Navy commanders will lead the six PRTs, their teams are mixed-service, with both active-duty and reserve members.

Most of the force protection for the Navy PRTs will be handled by infantry platoons from the Connecticut Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 102nd Regiment. Other soldiers will come from the 82nd Airborne Division, and the Army also will provide civil affairs teams for each PRT.

All six Navy-led teams are in the process of deploying and will arrive in Afghanistan within the next few weeks, according to Lt. Trey Brown, a Navy spokesman.

Six additional U.S. military PRT teams that are now in training at Fort Bragg, N.C., will be led by Air Force officers and staffed by airmen and soldiers, Brown said.


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