Staff Sgt. Luis Badillo wasn’t going to let a foreign language get in the way of his ability to train the Afghan National Police.
The 34-year-old state trooper and U.S. Army reservist stationed in Bamyan Province wanted to be able to speak Dari directly with the police he was training. The police had a two-month mandatory literacy program for incoming recruits, so Badillo decided to sit in on some of the classes to see if he could pick up the language during the beginning of his deployment in May.
“I started recognizing the letters and then I just picked it up,” he said during a recent phone interview from Afghanistan. “Then it was only a matter of picking up vocabulary.”
Badillo still didn’t consider himself fluent in the language as he approached the end of his 10-month deployment. Still, he can carry on a conversation well enough that he seldom relies on a translator when talking with the police he’s advising.
“Half the time when I speak with the Afghans, I don’t even bring an interpreter,” he said.
Knowing the language has been a big help for Badillo, who is a native Spanish speaker and also speaks French and bits of Korean. Being able to speak to the Afghans in their own language also helps him relate to them more intimately and has created a level of trust that has helped his work with the police.
Badillo’s role is to act as a senior adviser to the relatively inexperienced police force, helping its leaders reshape law enforcement techniques in the central Afghan province.
He teaches a wide breadth of subjects at the academy — from how to conduct a vehicle search safely to the best formations for riot control — and is hoping to imprint a concept of modern policing that can spread from Bamyan’s training facility to other regions in the almost perennially war-torn country.
“It’s the model of what Afghanistan should be in the future,” he said of the province.
Badillo volunteered for the deployment last year in the hopes of teaching some of the expertise he’s gathered over 14 years in the military and 10 years in the state police. He was in combat in Iraq during an 18-month deployment with the Army National Guard out of Niskayuna and has spent nearly a decade on the state police road patrol at the Wilton barracks.
He lives in Wilton with his wife, Denise, and three children.
Attention to detail
But Badillo also wanted to make a difference. He sees the Afghan police force as one that is evolving to meet the challenges of a rebuilding nation.
“It’s a different world and a different method of law enforcement,” he said.
The academy in Bamyan produces about three dozen officers per month, which is relatively few compared to training facilities in other provinces. The smaller class sizes, however, allow trainers to pay closer attention to detail and ultimately produce better-trained officers.
Badillo said he’s also teaching the Afghans the basic tenets of community policing, helping them to form a better bond with the community they serve. He’s imploring them to involve themselves in local philanthropic efforts so that they can foster trust with the people they police.
“It puts a positive face on the Afghan police,” he said. “It helps that relationship between the community and the police.”
The Afghans seem appreciative of Badillo’s work with the training program. In fact, one of the commanders offered him naturalization and a plot of land to build a house and consider staying permanently.
Bamyan is one of the peaceful areas in the strife-torn country and is known for its bucolic beauty: Rolling, snow-capped mountain ranges give way to a lush valley area and pristine lakes. Bamyan has Afghanistan’s only national park and is an area that some see developing into a tourist destination once stability is achieved.
Though intrigued by the commander’s offer, Badillo looks forward to returning to his wife and three children when his deployment ends this month. He’s an amateur pilot and aspires to join the state police aviation unit at some point in his career,
Still, Badillo will keep his memories of Bamyan close. And he’ll reflect fondly upon the many people he befriended overseas.
“I’m going to miss this place,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends here.”
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