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June 24, 2011


Soldiers learn skills to engage key local leaders during deployments

Story & photo by Tom Michele, Eagle Systems & Services

Key Leader Engagement is getting increased attention in mobilization training at Fort McCoy.
Key Leader Engagement includes how a U.S. Soldier meets, greets and communicates with senior local national personnel in an area of operation, such as a local village.
PHOTO: Soldiers from the 111th Engineer Battalion visit with local village officials at a village as part of Key Leader Engagement training. Photo by Tom Michele
Soldiers from the 111th Engineer Battalion visit with local village officials at a village as part of Key Leader Engagement training at Fort McCoy. On the left is 2nd Lt. Ehigie Obasohan and next to him Staff Sgt. Theodore Steadman. The two local officials are cultural role players assigned to the 181st Infantry Brigade, the mobilization trainers at Fort McCoy.

Convoy commanders, typically staff sergeants to lieutenant colonels, frequently stop their convoys and dismount to meet and greet local officials. Those talks involve many subjects, such as plans for U.S. logistical aid to a village to construct or repair wells, medical facilities or schools, or to determine locations and movements of suspected insurgents, according to Lt. Col. Timothy Senecaut, commander of the 111th Engineer Battalion, Texas Army National Guard. The 111th conducted mobilization training here and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Key Leader Engagement instruction has been on the mobilization training agenda for many years. But it is receiving more emphasis because of the importance of building and sustaining relationships with the people in the country where U.S. forces are operating.

Senecaut was one of those convoy commanders walking up to a local school principal to discuss U.S. aid to the school. “We are making sure the Soldiers on the ground are sensors and ambassadors to win the hearts of the local populace,” Senecaut said.

“We are training with the current guidance of General David Petraeus,” Senecaut said. “We carry out the mission to understand the culture we are operating in — cultural awareness — and to interact with the local people.” Senecaut listed the “locals” as mayors, sheiks, police chiefs, school principals and teachers, even shopkeepers, and, at higher levels, governors of provinces and tribal leaders. The leaders are portrayed by cultural role players at Fort McCoy, some of whom are native Iraqis and Afghans.

“We need to spend time with these leaders and establish a rapport with them,” Senecaut said. “A major thing for us is to ask those leaders about how their families are doing, and what are their interests and activities. Everybody likes to tell their story.”

“We don’t just go in and conduct business,” Senecaut said. “We engage their leaders on a personal level. When we meet for the first time, it is to establish a friendship. When we meet for the second time it is as brothers. We express our concern to make their lives better and comfortable.”

Senecaut said maintaining eye contact with the local leaders is very important, as is maintaining good posture, leaning forward into the conversation and not slouching.

“It is also important to properly introduce your assistants and to emphasize the importance of your meeting with the local leaders. And to be cognizant of everything going on. A wheelbarrow outside a house is just a wheelbarrow to me, but it is likely a prized possession to the local leader for them to make a living. To have you or your assistant taking notes will impress the local leader, but you must ask permission first.”

“We have very motivated Soldiers here,” Senecaut said of the 111th Engineers. “They are all eager to learn. This is the fourth and fifth tour of duty for some of our Soldiers, but they are still pulling out that different and new nugget of training here.”

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