Uncle Sam wants you to play a part in the war in Afghanistan.

The National Guard is recruiting 200 civilian “extras” to animate mock Afghan villages under construction at Fort Chaffee. Dressed as native villagers, the role-players will act out scenarios amid movie-style pyrotechnics to train U. S. soldiers to interact with real Afghan civilians in the war zone.

“Any mistakes to be made, make them here where it’s not life or death,” Lt. Col. John Posey said Wednesday as he steered his truck past walled encampments and villages going up for next month’s training.

Simulating foreign wars is nothing new at Fort Chaffee. But the installation hasn’t recruited civilian actors to fill out the scenes since its days as a joint readiness training center ended in 1993, said Posey, the training site manager at Chaffee.

It’s the first of three training sites where the military is installing the full-scale simulations that it recently added to the training cycle, he said. With the new approach, the sprawling but largely empty installation promises to become a busier place, Posey said.

If next month’s session goes well, Fort Chaffee could bring in brigades for training simulations perhaps three times a year, he said. The prospects are enhanced by a $20 million mock village complete with mosques and a soccer field that Posey said is scheduled to be added in 2011.

Private casting companies working for the Guard say they have already hired actual Afghans for the key roles in next month’s production. But they’re offering $90 a day and free meals to able-bodied locals who sign up as extras for the training sessions, scheduled for next month on the Fort Smith military base. A casting call was held late last week at a hotel in Fort Smith.

All the extras will portray Afghans. But the jobs are open to people of any ethnicity so long as they are at least 18, able to prove their legal status and hale enough for 12-hour days in the summer heat.

Civilian actors are important because, in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ability to work with and around civilians is key, private contractors and Guard officials said.

The rules of engagement are not so straightforward as simply finding and killing the enemy, Posey said. “It’s trying to win the peace,” he said. Such a mission requires a different approach and more interaction with civilians, he said.

After Afghanistan in Arkansas, a different group of roleplayers will assemble in August to bring a little slice of Iraq to a base in Boise, Idaho. . .

The extras will fill out the sets alongside a smaller number of Afghanistan natives already hired, said Catrine McGregor, whose Utah casting agency filled those roles. The native Afghans will play parts such as policemen, soldiers and translators. That should make the scenarios as authentic as possible, McGregor said.

In fact, some of the Afghans are such recent arrivals to the United States that they speak no English, she said. They will be especially attuned to subtle cultural or religious miscues that can unintentionally foul relationships between U. S. soldiers and the native people.

For instance, a thumbs-up given as a “high sign” in America would be taken as an offensive gesture by the average Afghan, she said. Putting a hand on a woman’s shoulder is not done in Muslim cultures, she said, adding that nine or 10 Afghan women will be among the cast.

Hired as a training consultant, Najibullah Niazi, a former United Nations interpreter from Afghanistan, will be watching for the cultural missteps. The guardsmen working through various scenarios will learn from their mistakes. (MORE)


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