The Army’s Security Assistance Brigades have revamped how they deploy soldiers since their first major deployment in Afghanistan. Now, it is about small teams, which are regionally compatible with different parts of the world.
When the first SFAB division was deployed to Afghanistan shortly after its creation in 2017, Maj. Gen. Scott A. Jackson, head of Security Assistance Force Command, said that all 800 soldiers went to focus on that one country.
Now, they send teams of four to 12 soldiers, headed by a captain, to work in one location for months or even a year at a time. In the past fiscal year, SFAB soldiers were deployed to 41 countries.
“It was the year to build,” Jackson said.
SFABs had about 800 soldiers deployed on any given day, year round. Those numbers are likely to increase to 1,000 troops deployed any time in the coming years.
The SFABs were regionally aligned 18 months ago to all geographic combatant commands, with the exception of the US Northern Command.
“We’ve decentralized it all over the world,” Jackson said Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Association of the American Army.
Jackson told Army Times after the presentation that there were NCOs and senior officers who commanded units in the early SFABs, then left for a while, before returning to the project. But Jackson doesn’t want to see over-specialization — soldiers who spend their careers inside SFABs.
“I’m totally against the career path,” he said.
SFABs want soldiers who are proficient in their fields of work, whether it is squad tactics, logistics or maintenance. To retain this experience, soldiers must be able to return to Army units and regular training schools after they have served periods at SFAB.
Although experience in the basics “is what drives you in,” Jackson said, maintaining the humility of soldiers in the host nation is what keeps them there. The goal is not to model and project US military actions to a foreign power that has its own way of doing things.
Jackson provided examples.
About 18 months ago, commanders in Djibouti wanted to help build the Rapid Intervention Brigades. Jackson said Foreign Military Sales approved the appropriate equipment to build what ended up being well-equipped light infantry battalions—but without training. Soon that changed.
SFAB Command sent Captain Justin Shaw, who was given 30 days to participate, evaluate and come up with a five-year training plan for the new battalions.
Now, instead of soldiers sitting on the sand learning to disassemble weapons, they are running vehicle, vehicle and improvised live-fire exercises and have already been deployed to the Djibouti border, Jackson said.
In the summer of 2020, a team of four soldiers, including their captain, deployed to Honduras in the wake of the first two major hurricanes. The initial task was to train the country’s engineer battalion.
But when the second hurricane hit, the team went out with the engineers, and for a month, each sector went one by one, notifying the US ambassador of conditions and needs on the ground, Jackson said.
Then there is the tactical nature of what teams do which can have a strategic impact.
Jackson referred to Colonel David Rowland, with SFAB fifth. Roland took the first deployment of the team to Mongolia.
Host country officials were happy with their presence, but being trapped between Russia and China, they were a little wary of the optics. Jackson said they asked the US team to keep out of sight.
“These guys kept out of sight for four months, trained field artillery, and helped build a training center for the Mongolian army,” Jackson said. “They had [a] Huge tactical effect.
When the Chief of the Mongolian Land Forces held a ceremony to honor the work of his soldiers, he asked the SFAB team to publicly present the awards to the Mongolian soldiers.
Do you sit in the seats? Officials of the Russian and Chinese delegations.
It was a light blow in line with Jackson’s push to use SFAB teams to slowly attract foreign partner forces.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government, and the military for several publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Finalist for a joint project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.