SPECIAL TO THE U-B: Troops build relationships in Afghanistan

A Walla Walla native, Lt. Col. Eric Zimmerman, is now the stability transition team chief.

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Members with Afghan National Security Forces and the International Security Assistance Force at the operation coordination center provincial in Kunduz, listen to a fellow member at a morning briefing on May 11. The center functions as a central communications hub for ISAF and Afghan security forces in Kunduz province.

KUNDUZ, Afghanistan - On a red carpet lightly coated with dust, men sat slightly hunched over a wooden table wearing different, multi-patterned uniforms. One after another they squinted toward an Afghan leader presenting his daily briefing in his native language, Dari.

Interpreters scribbled on a pads what they heard, then quickly translated the conversation for German and U.S. Army soldiers.

As the Afghan leader concluded, a U.S. Army officer shot up from his chair, and said in Dari, "Good morning, I hope your families are in good health." The greeting was quickly met with wide smiles from the men seated at the table.

For stability transition team soldiers attached to 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team this seemingly small gesture makes all the difference in building healthy relationships with Afghan security forces at the operation coordination center in Kunduz.

The center sits in the middle of the city and for two years has functioned as a central communications hub for Afghan security forces. The Kunduz operation center is one of many around Afghanistan started at the request of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Hosting representatives from the Afghan Border Police, Afghan Uniformed Police, Afghan National Army and ISAF, the center provides its multinational leaders the ability to quickly respond to problems.

Members of the coordination team receive daily reports from their respective forces and present the information in a morning meeting with Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Bashir Basharat, the center's commander.

"The partnered efforts between ISAF and our Afghan forces have reached a central point here at the O.C.C.P.," said Basharat.

Soldiers who serve on stability transition teams, commonly known as combat advisers, work hand-in-glove with their Afghan counterparts. The title is purely suggestive, with the advisers functioning as mentors to Afghan leaders.

But to meet this end, genuine relationships have to be established.

"Imagine if the roles were reversed and some foreign force came to the U.S. and immediately began to say that everything we have been doing is wrong, what type of response would you have?" said Lt. Col. Eric Zimmerman, a Walla Walla native, now the stability transition team chief with 2-18 Infantry Battalion.

For the past three months in Kunduz, advisers used aspects of married life, family, children and profession to relate to their Afghan partners, said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Lumadue, a Silverdale, Wash., native, now a deputy stability transition team chief.

"We make that human connection that we share. We show pictures of our kids, we talk about our wives and the funny things they do and they see that we deal with the same issues. Once they see that we are genuinely here to help, they are more apt to accept some of our work related suggestions," said Lumadue.

Advisers with 2-18 Infantry Battalion frequent the center five days a week and are met each time with warm handshakes, hugs and copious cups filled with Afghan Chai.

"We enjoy having this partnership with U.S. forces and ISAF, especially our mentors. They're like our brothers," said 2nd Lt. Ghulam Sakhy, an Afghan National Police communications specialist at the center.

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