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GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — They will run operations in what many regard as the most important battleground in the Global War On Terrorism, but officers headed to Regional Command South have just two weeks to get to know each other before they deploy to Afghanistan.

About 150 officers from 22 nations are at the U.S. Army’s Joint Multinational Simulations Center in Grafenwöhr, preparing for a yearlong mission running the headquarters.

Based in Kandahar, RC-South commands thousands of NATO troops battling the Taliban along southern Afghanistan’s porous border with Pakistan.

According to Danish army Maj. Gen. Agner Rokos, who is overseeing the training, the fact that the officers will be away from their families for a year means training time must be minimized, but he added: "We believe we can do what we need to in two weeks."

JMSC commander U.S. Army Col. Stephen Seitz contrasted the NATO training with the many months of training a U.S. unit typically does before it deploys.

"In the U.S., we come back from deployment, go on block leave, reset and start training for the next mission," he said.

In contrast, a Mission Rehearsal Exercise at JMSC will use only four days to train the RC-South staff using computer simulations that require the officers to respond to various scenarios that could happen downrange, he said.

"Most of [the RC-South staff] never met each other before this exercise and won’t see each other again until they meet in Afghanistan," he said.

Team building is a major focus of the training, said Rokos, who heads the Joint Force Training Center in Poland. JFTC runs training courses for RC-South staff every six months and will open its own training center next year, he said.

"This [RC-South training] is something we take very seriously, and we devote a lot of resources making sure that when they deploy, they are up to the task and ready to hit the ground running," Rokos said. "We train them to a very high level.

"We are not only focused on security. We pursue a comprehensive approach that includes governance, reconstruction, development and security."

Rokos has also trained Danish units to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The training brings into play a "white cell" of civilians who work in Kandahar with organizations such as the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations and private concerns, he said.

JFTC trainers visit Afghanistan before RC-South Mission Rehearsal Exercises to gather information on the latest trends so they can be incorporated into the training. They go back to Afghanistan six to eight weeks after the staff deploys to get feedback, Rokos said.

JFTC also trains NATO Observer Mentor Liaison Teams that work with Afghan army headquarters, he said.

One of the Afghanistan-bound officers training at Grafenwöhr, Lt. Col. Paul Kolken of the Netherlands, said the training gives officers an insight into what is going on in Afghanistan, such as the threat of improvised explosive devices on roads.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.
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