Beginning last summer selected senior Defense Department civilians began replacing previously untrained U.S. military personnel and contractors as advisers to top levels of the Afghan defense and interior ministries. The credit goes to a relatively new Pentagon program called, appropriately, the Ministry of Defense Advisors (MoDA).

“It’s a way of generating high-quality, effective civilian advisers who establish lasting links to partner ministries,” was how it was described last week by Dr. James Schear, deputy assistant secretary for Defense for partnership, strategy and stability operations before a Senate Armed Services subcommittee.

The Defense civilians, grade GS-13 and above, must agree to stay in Afghanistan for one to two years and take seven weeks of pre-deployment training, Schear said. Fundsare available to hire replacements to fill their jobs while they are deployed, he added.

“Within two months after our first deployment of 17 advisers in Kabul, General [David A.] Petraeus quickly challenged us to recruit, train and deploy 100 more before the end of this year,” he said.

A recent advertisement on the Defense Department’s Civilian Expeditionary Workforce Web site for a one-year position as a senior adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI) describes the complexity of the jobs being undertaken in the MoDA program.

“The incumbent coordinates the ministerial development effort of over 200 advisors in the MOI,” reads the ad. That person would be responsible for overseeing the National Police Plan, the National Police Strategy and 25 Ministerial Development Plans. These plans cover procurement, logistics, intelligence, strategy, policy budgets, communications and information technology, and much more.

Related duties include assessing progress with other advisers and Afghan counterparts, and reporting progress to the Afghan minister of Interior; the coalition’s deputy commander for police, a major general; and the coalition’s assistant commanding general for police development, a brigadier general.

An August 2010 blog of a then-civilian operations research analyst for Central Command provides a hint of the challenges involved. The analyst had to brief these same generals about issues related to the Afghan National Police.

One of the “sticky issues” concerned the Afghan commander of a training camp who refused to permit coalition personnel to use buildings there to house new police recruits.

One U.S. brigadier general agreed to take it to the Minister of Interior, saying “the [Afghan camp commander’s] behavior was unacceptable” and if access was denied “he would be fired.”

According to a federal employees Web site, there are 100 vacancies in the MoDA program for 12-month tours in Afghanistan. Preference is given to current, permanent Defense Department civilians who “should have relevant Office of Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff or Service Headquarters experience.” A secret security clearance is needed for all MoDA positions.

Kimberly Ekholm, before joining the initial MoDA group, was a program analyst and executive services officer at the Pentagon, according to a story posted on a Pentagon Web site last November. Her job in Kabul was to help develop office staff functions for the deputy Afghan defense minister and the vice chief of the Afghan general staff.

“During my office assessments, I saw how much manual work was being submitted both in and out of the office. When I asked why they weren’t using their computer, they said they didn’t know how,” the article quoted Ekholm as saying. She began teaching computer literacy, not just for her group but to the entire ministry staff.

George M. Dreyden was a program manager with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, handling Europe and Eurasia. He went to Kabul working in support of the Afghan Defense Ministry. With an American colleague, he created an assessment program for the Defense Ministry’s development board, and the two have gone on to work on a ministerial development plan.

Schear also discussed a second, little-publicized new Pentagon program, the Defense Institution Reform Initiative (DIRI), which aims at streamlining support programs for partner defense ministries, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It identifies capabilities and gaps and “then supplies teams of subject matter experts to work with a partner nation on a periodic, sustained basis,” he said. He offered an example: One country might need a “realistic” strategic defense plan and another a new personnel system.

Both programs are aimed at finding better ways to solve problems encountered in security cooperation missions, which vary from country to country.

Schear noted that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates recently described as “patchwork” the “specialized [U.S. congressional] legislative authorities and funding sources that evolved in a very different security environment” than today.

Lessons learned hopefully will guide support efforts for Washington’s growing number of new military partners.