When the chiefs of police of Colorado Springs and Fountain traveled to Afghanistan last Wednesday, they knew their goal was to help the nation's police force become more efficient, stronger and self-sustaining. During a phone interview from Afghanistan with The Gazette on Sunday, they said they'll come home inspired, encouraged and excited about what the future holds for police in Afghanistan, Colorado Springs and Fountain.
Colorado Springs Police Chief Peter Carey, Deputy Chief Mark Smith and Fountain Police Chief Todd Evans jumped at the opportunity to travel to Kabul and Kandahar on invitation from Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division Provost Marshal, Lt. Col. Tim MacDonald. They trained for three months to prepare for their week-long trip to Afghanistan, a nation that has now been at war for decades.
"In terms of our personal safety and the agenda coming here, I felt completely safe and prepared," Carey said. "We trained for several months before we came out here, and the training was spot on. I am so thankful to be here."
The Army-sponsored mission is the first of its kind for law enforcement personnel in Colorado, or anywhere else, MacDonald said. Headquartered at Kandahar Airfield, the 4th Infantry Division's goal is to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.
"This is the first time a collaboration like this has ever happened, and it took about five months of planning and coordination, but it's been well-worth all the trouble it took to put together," MacDonald said. "We want to show Afghan leadership that back home we work and collaborate across agencies and branches. The military works well and partners strongly with police, and vice versa."
Carey, Evans and Smith have advised Afghan National Police leaders how to develop strong ties with their communities to grow their police force efficiently and make it sustainable.
"They need to develop trust with the community, I think they understand the importance of listening to their needs and concerns," Smith said. "They are aware that their police force needs to reflect the makeup of their community. We met with the first-ever female police recruit class. That was just wonderful."
Training techniques and how to designate locations to train recruits have also been a significant part of their work there, teaching their senior-level members to lead and mentor recruits and young officers.
"We really focused on the basics, training, logistics of how to train and where," Evans said. "The military has provided a lot of that for them, but they have to learn to work with their own community leaders and come up with those locations, without always relying on military authority."
The exchange of knowledge and experience across police and military ranks, MacDonald said, is the greatest reward and objective of the mission. The chiefs' input is intended to supplement the training Afghan forces get with American troops.
"In the future, we'd really like to see more senior-level police members provide guidance and mentorship to the leadership of police in Afghanistan," MacDonald said. "As a military officer, I don't bring the type of experience and knowledge to the table that the chiefs do."
All three chiefs described the Afghan police leaders, officers and recruits as sincere, grateful and excited for the future, but also just as fearful of what's to come. More than a decade of constant fighting and bloodshed has strained the nation's resources, disrupting any sense of safety or stability.
"They really want to develop a strong and efficient police force, but it's difficult because they're going through war. It's tough to learn to be soldiers and police officers at the same time," Carey said.
For the police chiefs, their experience in Afghanistan will be one they'll never forget, they all said. Their collaboration with Army leaders in Kabul and Kandahar have given them new insight into emergency management, strategies and partnerships with other police departments and the region's military bases.
"We've been to several staff meetings, listening in on how the leadership here plans and prepares for major events and emergencies, which can happen on a daily basis here," Carey said. "Their strategies have definitely given us lots of inspiration and new ideas we'll bring back to share with our departments, the Emergency Operations Center and fire departments."
Deputy Chief Smith's father and two brothers-in-law are retired Air Force officers, he said, and he thought he understood what the American soldiers go through in deployments to places like Afghanistan. Seeing the reality troops face in a war zone opened his eyes to their sacrifice.
"When you really see and live the environment the soldiers go through day after day, you realize how challenging it truly is," Smith said. "Police in Colorado Springs definitely work very hard and they are dedicated, but nothing compares to what our troops go through over here. They are real-life heroes."
The mission will conclude Friday, when the chiefs will travel back to Colorado to be home just in time for Christmas, a blessing they all agreed will not be taken for granted again.
"We understand how lucky we are to be home for Christmas," Evans said. "We went to a briefing and the subject of being away for the holidays came up, and everyone was so emotional because so many of these brave men and women won't be there. I even met several from Fountain, and their dedication and hard work is so inspiring."