Building relationships is a big part of Andrew Patterson’s day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy outside Kabul, Afghanistan for Operation Highroad.
Major Patterson from 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, in Darwin, is a senior mentor for both the commanding officer and the executive officer of an Afghan tolay or company.
He spends much of his time not only talking military tactics but also building relationships with the Afghans by talking about their families and their friends.
“It was just a matter of taking time to go talk to people and establish a relationship between us so that we could converse on an equal level,” Andrew said.
“That involves talking with them, getting an idea of how they go about the usual day-to-day things and sometimes suggest a better way to do something or in some cases just let them get on with it because they know what they are doing.”
Andrew covers a range of topics with the Afghans, including infantry tactics administrative requirements and he also makes suggestions of different things they could think about in their planning.
“I might say to the executive officer ‘have you thought about your ration plan or where your ammunition is coming from or if it is ordered early enough, is the weather going to make a difference’.
“It is an interesting way they go about things because they have a different structure, they rely a lot on higher level leadership giving the authority for them to do something. All the direction comes from above.”
He said the most enjoyable thing about working with the Afghans is seeing how they have improved even during his time at the Academy.
“The growth curve that the Afghans have gone through and seeing how they have absorbed and incorporated some of the ideas we have passed onto them to achieve a better outcome has been a good thing.”
The British-led mentoring program at the Academy involves a number of nations including Denmark, New Zealand and Australia, each of which, have a strong influence in the training and mentoring of the Afghans in developing their military leadership skills.
“Each nation brings with it their own little idiosyncrasies with the way they do things and the way that they pass things on,” Andrew said.
“I think Australia does a very good job and has endeared themselves to the Afghans, especially because of our relaxed style, we try and do it in an open friendly manner.
“We have a very balanced and enjoyable way of passing on information, whether that’s the hands-on way of doing things or whether it’s trying to talk about the different tactics, we seem to be able to engage with them on another level than some of the other countries.”
Andrew said aside from the Afghans, the standout moment of his deployment so far has been seeing the way Australian troops engage with the other nations.
“We are more than capable of holding our own in engaging with people. We are not the centre of the universe but we are not seen as being on the fringe either.
“People are more than happy to come up and talk to us from various nations and we get asked the questions to explain the way things are being done. Sort of like a middle common-sense approach.”
Andrew will soon finish his eight-month deployment and will return to Darwin where he is looking forward to spending time with his wife, Vanessa, and their two dogs Harry and Jasper.
He has three adult children and a grandchild who live in Melbourne and Sydney.
“What I’m looking forward to most about going home is to be amongst family and friends.”
He is one of approximately 400 Australian Defence Force personnel currently deployed to Afghanistan under Joint Task Force 636 for Operation Highroad supporting the NATO Resolute Support Mission.