In three weeks the 1st Infantry Division headquarters will deploy to Afghanistan to oversee the transition to Afghan government control of the area close the Pakistani border. During a casing ceremony Wednesday, division leaders said the focus of Operation Enduring Freedom is shifting to helping the Afghan National Security Forces operate once the foreign presence leaves.
Seven hundred soldiers will deploy, among them Maj. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., the division’s commander.
In order to get ready for their deployment, soldiers’ training has focused on the differences between the Afghan and American culture. It’s an especially sensitive topic given an incident a few weeks ago in which copies of the Quran were burned, touching off violent attacks against some American troops.
“They live in a high context culture, while we live in a low context culture” Spec. Kevin Cano said. Cano explained that America tends to focus on the individual, where Afghans will focus on the family and the tribe.
“When we mess up, we tend to focus on how that impacts us,” Cano said. “When they mess up, it really hurts the family and tribe.”
The soldiers have also learned the main languages of Pakistan and Afghanistan since the command post is situated along the border of both countries.
Mayville said the U.S. security forces need to gain the trust of the Afghan people and they can do that by understanding the cultural differences. Mayville added that the recent Quran burnings, which sparked riots across the country of Afghanistan, were a byproduct of not understanding the culture.
“I think we will be fine,” he said. “Our training has been specifically looking at these kinds of issues and looking at how we can build an lasting enduring relationship…”
Not only will soldiers need to develop a relationship with their Afghan partners, they will also continue their relationship with their families back home. Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie will take over command of the 1st Infantry Division in Mayville’s absence.
Mayville said he and MacWillie will be in constant conversation, so families will know how their soldiers are doing and vice versa.
“Their (families) want to know how we are doing and our progress,” Mayville said.
While he does not expect the mission to be easy, Mayville said the Afghan people are ready for change.
“They want to see lasting peace in their country,” Mayville said.