Retired general advises MEF advisors

17 Jun 2011 | Sgt. Marcy Sanchez

I Marine Expeditionary Force welcomed Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, to Camp Pendleton to address Afghanistan advisor and embedded training teams, June 14.

Zinni spoke to more than 100 Marines about his time as an infantry battalion advisor to the Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.

Zinni was commissioned in 1965 as an infantry second lieutenant. He has commanded at all operational levels and retired from the military in 2000 after commanding the U.S. Central Command. His operational experience spans from Vietnam through the Gulf War and includes many emergency relief, security and evacuation operations.

He stressed the importance of inserting embedded training teams and advisor cells into the foreign culture to train them to be independent in security operations. Zinni said advisor teams must have basic understanding of language, possess a solid grasp of the culture and be familiar with foreign weaponry.

The mission of embedded Marines is to advise, mentor, and train foreign security forces to combat terrorism and counter an insurgency.  Advisors and trainers provide support needed in stabilizing troubled areas of the world by developing security forces who can handle threats.

Zinni said he had no idea what an advising team was when he was tasked to embed with Vietnamese Marines, but the advisors received extensive training at the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, N.C., before deploying.

“We had to understand who we were fighting with,” Zinni said. “[Advisors] had to understand the limitations of Vietnamese Marines.”

The approach to advising was entirely different than advisors embedding today, said Zinni. “We wore their uniform and totally immersed ourselves in their culture.”

While attached to the Vietnamese unit, Zinni experienced their military and their community. He said Americans had to completely share in their hardships to earn their trust. Zinni followed his unit everywhere, ate their food, and suffered from the environment as they did. He said if they didn’t receive food rations from the villages they would hunt crocodiles, iguanas and monkeys.

“We were willing to take the risk and thought of them as a building capability to get us out of the war,” Zinni said.

His first tour to Vietnam was cut short after he contracted malaria, hepatitis, mononucleosis and dysentery all at once.

Although training and embedding was important to their mission, Zinni said that building rapport with the units he was attached to and the Vietnamese people was also critical to their success.

 “I created some of the best friends I will ever have in the world with some of those Vietnamese,” Zinni said.

Staff Sgt. Nicholas Jones, advisor team leader attached to Embedded Training Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, said advisor teams today need to understand the fight behind the fight. U.S. forces will return home once the mission is over, and foreign forces must be self sufficient.

“The true goal of this fight that we are in right now is partnering,” Jones said. “To truly partner with somebody, you have to know them on a personal level not just a professional level.  Trying to get us to the point that [advisors] were back then has definitely come a long way. [Advisors in Vietnam] were a lot more embedded than some of the teams in the past.

 “He definitely shed light on the fact that you have to build rapport,” said Jones.

Zinni explained to the advisors and embedded training team members in the audience that their hard work will help improve the relationship between the coalition forces and Afghanistan national security forces.

“As advisors, the teams are going to see an entirely different side of this conflict,” Zinni said. “If you take the opportunity to see the conflict from [Afghan’s] eyes you’ll come away with a much greater appreciation.”