Dr. Richard R. Boone, of Wimberley, Texas, is in the valley of Baraki Barak, Logar Province, Afghanistan, creating a map.
For his map he will ignore the rugged mountains that spring up on the sides of the valley, and the roads that criss-cross through it. Boone is part of the Human Terrain System, and his job is to create a map of the map of the Afghanistan people to give to commanders so they can navigate the complex Afghan culture.
“We’re looking at the regular people, the average people and we’re trying to figure out how they view their own lives, what issues do they think are important, what attitudes do they have toward their own national government, what attitudes they have towards the enemy,” Boone said.
Boone says that by gathering this information from average people, HTS members can save lives on a civilian-oriented battlefield.
“Our purpose is to get the information in the hands of commanders to help them determine what their actions will be. That will help them reduce the lethality of what we have to do,” Boone said.
Human Terrain Teams and HTS have been operating for years in Iraq and more recently in Afghanistan. The teams are made up of civilians who usually have a degree in Social Sciences and military background.
Boone’s degree is in Psychology, and he has served in both the Army and the Navy in his field. Boone served two tours in Iraq as part of a combat stress team.
Now, he finds himself deployed to Afghanistan on patrols with Stryker teams and Airborne Brigade Combat Teams.
“I was with a Stryker Brigade, and we were always out in Stryker vehicles. It was always a mounted patrol. We’d drive to a village and we would come right up to the edge of the village, get out and walk into the village,” Boone said.
“In Logar and Wardak we do dismounted patrols much more frequently,” Boone said.
Currently embedded with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Boone sleeps in the desert valley alongside the Soldiers. They conduct long foot patrols into villages where Boone gathers data.
Boone, at age 55, has to keep up with Soldiers who are sometimes more than 35 years his junior. “I’m inclined to exercise anyway to stay physically fit,” Boone said.
As the Soldiers conduct key leader engagements, Boone interviews ordinary citizens.
Part of the HTS mission is to “collect information on people who are typically overlooked by military collection teams,” Boone said. By doing so they hope to, “increase the cooperation that we get from some of the average people.”
In the Baraki Barak valley, he found a major concern to be roads. “Here, what I’ve discovered is that a lot of people want their roads to be improved,” said Boone. According to Boone, this concern was often overlooked before because of the demographics of the village.
As a psychologist, Boone looks to children as the future of Afghanistan. He hopes that some of his findings may lead to children centered operations.
“The kids are curious and they’re also interested in pens and notebooks, and it tells me, unless they’re selling them, that they have some interest in the resources that you would associate with going to school,” said Boone
“And, most of the parents that I’ve talked to want that for their children, and it seems like that’s lacking,” Boone said.
Boone hopes this will lead to a change in the cultural terrain.
“I think that if there was some way to reach them culturally and socially and get them to embrace some of our values while still holding true to their own cultural values the country could go a long way toward achieving some sort of democratic system,” said Boone.
Boone says his mission is not to come up with programs and plans. He will chart his piece of the map and leave it to others to find the way.
Story by Staff Sgt. Donald Reeves
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