WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. and Allied forces continue to make a difference in U.S. operations abroad. An effective tool in the DoD arsenal are specially trained Sailors who work closely with local Afghan leaders on a number of projects in-theater known as the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AFPAK) Hands.
The AFPAK Hands Program was established by the Department of Defense in 2009 to develop a cadre of experts specializing in the complexities of Afghanistan and Pakistan including the language, culture, processes and challenges.
"Being able to support this program has been one of the highlights of my career," said Naval District Washington (NDW) AFPAK Hands Hub Commanding Officer Capt. Karen Newcomb. "I am in awe of the demands on our members as they embrace an up to five-year program that is full speed with up to 16 months of training, 24 months of deployment and a one year out of theater assignment. The demand is heavy for the member and their family. It is my honor to be able to support them. I can say in full confidence these AFPAK Hands are some of my heroes."
The NDW AFPAK Hand Hub is a fast-paced, fully operational unit that supports all administrative and operations requirements for "Hands" and their families. It provides mentorship and advice to the Norfolk and Tampa Hubs and their more than 30 Hands.
The typical deployment for an AFPAK Hand is 12 months long, they interact and work along with high-profile leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. NDW AFPAK Hands comprise 69 Sailors with 26 of them boots on the ground abroad.
"When I deployed to Afghanistan back in October of 2013, I was stationed in Kandahar and I worked with the airport director at Kandahar International Airport, I was his economic development officer as well as his security officer," said Lt. Cmdr. Dean Samaniego. "I had a fantastic time doing that job; it was definitely a great experience working with the coalition. It was also eye opening to see the state of that country and how long they've been at war, but my job was to get jobs. We went from 250 employees to 600 in less than a year and that was including airport security employees, equivalent to the Transportation Security Agency here stateside."
The NDW AFPAK Hands hub has had many accomplishments since its establishment. It's being recognized as the one stop shop for personnel in high demand/high stress program and a model for other services.
While the Navy is lead among services for personnel support/program management, NDW is lead among Navy Hubs.
"The AFPAK Hands program has made some impressive contributions," said Newcomb. "Our Hands, both in-country during their deployments and during their out of theater assignments have made an impact on dozens of agencies and organizations."
The objective of the AFPAK Hands program is to identify, select, train, and manage this cohort to provide greater continuity, focus and persistent engagement on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sailors develop close working relationships with their Afghan and Pakistani counterparts and are placed in positions of strategic influence to ensure progress toward achieving U.S. government objectives in the AFPAK region.
"With each Hand, a differing experience is made as they reach throughout the range of government in Afghanistan, from military, to police, special ops, Ministry of Defense to some of the other foundational organizations within health, legal, public affairs, and so on," said Newcomb.
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