A Day in the Life of a Stabilisation Advisor
His work at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) begins shortly before 7am when he crawls out of his four-season sleeping bag into the morning chill. After washing and shaving from the well – the water is invariably freezing - he hits his emails for a quarter of an hour, fires off a personal message to his wife if time allows and attends the US military “morning huddle” at 8am.
The 31-year-old American spent most of the past six years working in Iraq, so he’s used to operating in a highly challenging environment and getting the job done. Last year, he was deployed by the British government’s Stabilisation Unit – co-owned by the Department for International Development, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - to Nad Ali and in February relocated to Marjah as part of Operation Moshtarak, augmenting the civilian stabilisation capacity which is a key component of success here.
Jones makes sure the Afghan government representative that he is mentoring is fully prepared for the day and has everything he needs. “So far, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two senior Afghan officials,” he says. “Both of them are very capable in their own right.”
Jones then checks in with the Operations Officer prior to leaving the FOB. Cultural awareness is an important part of the work for any Stabilisation Advisor. With Milad un Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, imminent, he asks the civilian secretary to give a cultural briefing to the military on some essential do’s and don’ts for their lunch with local elders and Afghan security forces.
Later in the morning, once he has donned his battle rig of body armour and helmet, it’s off to a local shura or consultative gathering with security provided by the military. He greets his Afghan counterpart and the local elders but remains discreetly in the background allowing them to get on with their meeting at their own speed and with their own agenda while he takes notes and a few photos. In the margins, Jones speaks to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officers about any challenges they wish to bring up. The meeting is not for the faint-hearted. It lasts three hours.
Lunch, when it comes, is welcome. Jones takes his place next to the local Afghan National Army commander and tucks into a plate of rice with some lamb, a delicious disc of fresh bread and a Pepsi. Many Afghans here don’t get to have meat all that often, so the lunch is especially well received. While the Afghans start peeling off to pray, Jones sticks around to discuss various items with the guests as the government representative distributes food packs to the elders and some other gifts for the day.
Later there is a smaller shura about an Afghan detainee. Once this is over, Jones walks back to the FOB with his security detachment and starts writing up his daily reports, logging onto both his secure and unclassified email. Communications are not always straightforward and mobile phones often do not work in the most remote areas.
There is always work to do on the accounts to ensure all the cash used is properly accounted for. Receipts, in an environment like Afghanistan, can sometimes be a challenge. Then it’s a session on future planning and reviewing timetables with his Afghan colleague. In between meetings, Jones uploads photos of the day’s events for use on the website.
Work advances well into the evening. There’s a delicate meeting with a government representative and ISAF to discuss battle damage payments and land use for military FOBs and Checkpoints. Then a videoconference with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah to tie up future plans and synchronisation. If Jones can’t make a further meeting with ISAF, he’ll ask a political officer (also deployed by the Stabilisation Unit) to run with it.
There is a last opportunity to check in with Afghan colleagues for the following day’s plan of action and the Operations Officer to make sure these plans are still on. Then another dip into the well water to wash his face and brush his teeth and finally to bed just before midnight. Another long day is over. “It’s another early start tomorrow,” he says.
Johann Jones is an American Stabilisation Advisor deployed by the Stabilisation Unit.