Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Facing an Impossible Situation?

Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Facing an Impossible Situation?

Article excerpt


Stop the log jam! That was my objective. I had to convince Colonel Farhim, an Afghan military officer, to immediately sign the permits I needed for my instructors to come on the air base to conduct the training programs that were my responsibility. I knew that due respect should be given to a higher-ranked officer, but my training efforts had been delayed for nearly a month and Colonel Farhim was to blame. To complicate things, I was a low ranking member of the U. S. Army who needed to convince a high-level Afghan Air Force officer to cooperate with me or the program would suffer and I would be likely to receive a very poor performance appraisal.

My name is Mike Dawson and I am currently a captain in the United States Army Reserve. As a first lieutenant, I deployed to Afghanistan for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as an engineer advisor under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Training Command. Under NATO there were two separate but equal Training Commands, the Air Training Command and the Ground Forces Training Command, to which I reported. However, although I was a U. S. Army officer, I was attached to an Air Force advising unit.

Advisors were NATO military personnel who were paired with Afghan military officers and whose primary task was to train and provide support to the Afghan military. It was the job of the advisors to mentor and teach the Afghans how to lead and do their assigned jobs. For example, a NATO infantry officer would be paired with an Afghan infantry officer to teach him military tactics. Senior ranking Afghan officers would have senior NATO officer counterparts. A NATO colonel would advise an Afghan general, and a NATO lieutenant colonel would advise an Afghan colonel. A NATO major, captain, or other junior officer would advise an Afghan lieutenant colonel. Figure 1 depicts the relationship between the advisors and the advisees.

The on-the-job-training (OJT) program for which I was responsible had stalled. Afghan Air Force engineers were not getting their training because the program instructors were not being allowed on the air base. Colonel Farhim had suddenly decided to stop signing the permission forms needed to admit the program's instructors, so it had been over a month since the engineers had attended any classes. They were hanging around their barracks with nothing to do. With the deck already stacked against me and training falling behind schedule, I was expected to solve the problem and break the log jam. Program failure meant a subpar efficiency rating and decreased chances for promotion. Therefore, success was paramount, especially since the Army was moving to a new system of promotions where any failure would put me further down the promotion ranking.

I had thus been dreading my scheduled meeting with Colonel Farhim, which was about to take place. He had a reputation for not being the easiest to work with and for being uncooperative with the NATO partners. For instance, there was a rumor that on one occasion Farhim accused some American Air Force advisors of human trafficking by charging they were smuggling people from the Afghan base to the American base to work. On another occasion he allegedly pressured a contractor to make a name plate for his door or face being arrested and thrown in jail. After talking with several of his direct reports, it became clear to me that Colonel Farhim had a history of being unreliable and overpromising and under-delivering. He cared more about future endeavors than current issues.


The OJT program was a nationwide training program funded by United States taxpayers and executed by a United States contractor. The nine-month program, at a cost of several million dollars, was designed in three phases, with each phase lasting three months. Successful completion would likely result in the contract getting extended for another six months. The program had high visibility, and many people were watching its progress very carefully. …

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