KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Don't be too surprised if the shaka sign becomes the standard friendly greeting gesture between coalition forces and Afghan National Security Forces in southern Afghanistan in the upcoming year.
The gesture, long associated with the Hawaiian Islands and surfing culture, promises to be widely displayed throughout the region in upcoming months when about 190 Soldiers from the Hawaii Army Guard's 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team assimilate with Afghan security force personnel.
The Guardsmen will comprise 16 security forces assistance teams that will advise and assist both Afghan soldiers and policemen at seven locations in Kandahar and Zabul provinces.
Their mission is critical as there is just a short time remaining to ensure the Afghan army and police can sustain the country's security and security training once International Security Assistance Forces pull out of Afghanistan in 2014.
"The goal of our mission will be to work ourselves out of our job," said Lt. Col. Paul Takata, the brigade's executive officer. "Our goal is to make the Afghan organizations we work with completely independent and able to conduct operations completely on their own."
About 10 percent of the 29th IBCT's Soldiers are participating in the nine-month deployment that began here at Kandahar Airfield in early November with some final training classes before the teams traveled to their final destinations
The entire brigade, headquartered in Kalaeloa, Hawaii, includes more than 2,200 Soldiers. The security forces assistance teams are each comprised of 9-12 senior officers, senior sergeants and Soldiers with specialized military occupations.
"This will be a unique mission because every Soldier will be a ‘doer,'" said team leader Lt. Col. Darryl Lindsey of Hilo, Hawaii. "Lieutenant colonels will have to be crew-served weapon gunners and sergeants major will have to be drivers. Every Soldier will have a variety of responsibilities."
The SFAT teams will prioritize a number of subjects and topics in both classroom and field environments with their Afghan partners, including infantry tactics, organizational management, logistics and acquisitions.
The SFAT teams' route to Afghanistan entailed far more than an 8,000-mile airplane flight. The teams have trained full time for the past five months and spent long stints at Camp Shelby, Miss., Fort Polk, La., and Fort Irwin, Calif., preparing for the deployment.
Lindsey said the southern Afghanistan SFAT mission is perfectly suited for a Hawaii Army National Guard brigade.
"Hawaiians are similar to Afghans in so many ways. We take our shoes off at the door, like to talk about our families, and love to sit down together for a meal, just like the Afghans," Lindsey said. "The cultural diversity of the Hawaii Guard is also an important factor. It's cultivated a mindset of mutual respect and reserved judgment.
"The Aloha spirit is going to be present – it's going to be a good rotation."
The team's desire to spread the Aloha spirit throughout southern Afghanistan doesn't lessen the realization that insider threats will remain a serious issue throughout the deployment. According to the Associated Press, more than 50 NATO service members have been killed in insider-attack incidents in 2012.
"We participated in a lot of training and scenarios throughout our pre-deployment training that focused on avoiding green-on-blue incidents," Takata said.
Before reaching each of its respective final destinations, the 16 teams spent about one week on Kandahar Airfield taking final marksmanship, driving and counter-improvised explosive device classes. Once they reach their final destinations, the teams will spend about one week with their SFAT predecessors learning the intricacies of the duty. Once the overlap period is over, the Hawaiian Soldiers will be solely responsible for advising and assisting the Afghan forces.
"We've been training hard," Takata said. "We're ready to get into our sectors and do our mission."