LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The first security force assistance brigade in Afghanistan is made up of numerous advisors helping the Afghan National Army as they become self-reliant. The mentors work hand-in-hand with their counterparts providing the ANA with rotary wing, air force aviation, intelligence and medical support.
The medical advisors assigned to the Company C, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas are mentoring the ANA medical staff as they provide comprehensive medical care to their soldiers, allowing them to stay mission ready.
U.S. Army Capt. Esmerelda Linan is the medical advisor to ANA Col.Shahidullah Akbari, the corps surgeon for the 201st Corps. They work together to develop the clinic staff and improve the troop medical clinics assigned to the 201st Corps.
Akbari is the officer-in-charge of the ANA medical brigades in 7 provinces of Afghanistan.
He has more than eight years of experience working with Coalition Forces. Akbari said he has developed a good partnership with his advisor, Capt. Linan.
“Our mentors have given us a golden opportunity to learn and improve our medical capabilities,” said Akbari.
Linan travels to the ANA side of Forward Operating Base Gamberi as many times as she can to meet with and advise her ANA counterpart. Linan also serves as commander for Company C, 27th BSB, 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
During her time serving as medical advisor, she has witnessed the progression of the ANA medical clinic staff. With improved communication among the different ANA sections, medical evacuation, (medevac) and casualty evacuation, (casevac), time has been greatly reduced.
Linan said when she first arrived at FOB Gamberi, the request process would take the ANA between 48 and 72 hours to medevac a casualty. It now takes them approximately 4 hours to medevac a patient.
Linan has many goals as advisor to Col. Akbari. In addition to upgrading the 201st Corps medical facilities, she has helped to improve the relationship between the ANA, the Afghan ministry of public health and provincial chief of public health.
She said she has a good working relationship with Akbari, because he looks past her gender and rank, instead focusing on her vast medical experience.
“I am impressed by his desire to learn and improve,” said Linan. “He is very proud, and wants the ANA to advance and Afghanistan to improve, as well.”
Linan said Akbari is very appreciative of the guidance she provides.
“If he were to be lazy or have bad work ethic, my time as an advisor wouldn't be as rewarding as it has been,” said Linan.
Col. Akbari said the TMC has gone through tremendous changes since he first arrived 9- months ago. He said he took it upon himself to do his best to improve the facility. The first project was to organize the warehouse used for pharmacy supplies.
“When I first walked through the different sections everything was in a bad status. We now have full accountability for the medications,” said Akbari. “We have done as much as we could to improve the TMC. We now have a dental office, a lab tech room, an X-ray room, and emergency room.”
The medical clinic recently acquired an an anesthesia machine from Kabul. Akbari said compared to other TMCs in the brigade, Gamberi is the best. His goal is to have every TMC in 201st Corps upgraded to help sick and injured soldiers.
“Nine months ago, if an ANA soldier was injured, our only option was to take him to Kabul. Now we have the option of taking care of the patient here,” said Akbari.
During his time as the 201st Corps surgeon, Akbari has worked with two advisors and said he appreciates their help. Nine months ago the clinic had many problems, and with the advisor support they have found solutions for most of those problems.
“Having an advisor in my section has been very useful,” said Akbari. “If I encounter a problem, my advisor and I work together to find a solution.
The improvements don’t stop at Gamberi. Akbari said more medical facilities assigned to the 201st Corps are being upgraded. He said it is imperative the 201st Corps continues to improve.
“For me, treating my people is very important,” said Akbari. “The public paid for my college and military training and now I have to work for the Afghan people and for this country.”
As Task Force Longknife reaches closer to the end of their deployment to Afghanistan, Linan has seen the positive impact her role as an advisor has been for the ANA. The native of Corpus Christi, Texas, looks forward to reuniting with her friends and family and said working as an advisor has been rewarding in many ways.
“I knew I would be affected by this job, but I didn't know it would be this big,” said Linan. “My experience as an advisor has been good, I’ve learned a lot.”
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Representatives from the International Security Assistance Force and the United States Department of Agriculture met with Laghman district leaders to discuss economic growth at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, Laghman Province, May 9.
“I am really happy that we can have these meetings to bring together our knowledge,” said Dawalatz Zai, director of agriculture, irrigaton and livestock for Laghman Province.
Members of ISAF and U.S. Agencies listened to the concerns and recommendations brought forward by the local Afghan line directors and provided guidance to help boost agricultural revenue.
“Farming is an important part of the Laghman Province economy, with almost 90 percent of the population employed by agriculture,” said Eric Dolbeare, USDA Senior Agricultural Advisor, Regional Command-East.
Dolbeare said he is assisting the farmers through the government of Afghanistan and is focusing on what local Afghans need to learn in order to increase the productivity of their farms.
Approximately 30 to 40 percent of farmers’ produce is for their own use, said Zai.
“Improving agriculture is crucial to the development of Afghanistan,” said Dolbeare.
In addition, the meetings are a time to show the line directors how to implement new strategies with the farmers.
As an example, the Agricultural Extension Development program from the United States Agency for International Aid has helped Laghman Province develop seven demonstration farms.
“These farms give farmers the opportunity to come see techniques used to improve their own farms,” said Dr. Jahangir Miakhail, senior provincial management specialist, Laghman Province. “We have established orange orchards, wheat, soy beans, rice; we have a lot of production here.”
Another key topic discussed during the meeting was the importance of financial security.
Pnina Levermore, regional sub-national governance advisor, USAID, who works specifically with provincial officials on budgetary matters, says budget meetings help line directors understand how a budget is formed and how it comes together by looking at the numbers on paper.
“We identified that they did not have the knowledgebase to use their existing budget or how to establish a proper budget plan for the following year,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Daniel Gilliss, Company A., 486th Civil Affairs Battalion, Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Gilliss, a native from Oklahoma City, Okla., said he believes helping farmers with the budget will help them get seeds to plant and fertilizer for crops.
“Private sector businesses, such as seed companies, plant protection and machinery companies, will benefit from the increase of productivity,” said Dolbreare. “Improving Afghanistan’s agriculture will increase the Afghans’ confidence in their own government and ultimately it will make them less susceptible to the insurgents.”
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It is said that Soldiers do not go to war because they hate the people who fight in front of them, but because the love they have for the ones they left behind.
“If I can do my job right, when my kids walk across that stage to receive their high school diploma and a recruiter asks if they want to serve. They can say, ‘Thanks, but my dad has done enough serving for all of us,’” said Sgt. Tad Randell, a combat medic with 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan.
If you ask Randell, a Midland, Texas, native, about his vocation or the country he serves, you will not get a word of discouragement, but rather a sense of pride. It is no surprise considering he has a special military history running in his bloodline.
“My initial inspiration to join the military came from my grandfather who served in the Air Force as part of the Berlin Airlift Operation, said Randell. “He inspired me to believe that every able body should enlist once in the military. If everyone enlisted, then people in this country would be more appreciative and proud of a country that, I believe, God allowed them to be born in.”
When he was old enough, Randell attempted to enlist in the military, but was turned away.
As luck would have it, he would get another opportunity years later while working as a manager at a restaurant located next to a military recruiting station.
Day after day, the recruiters bombarded Randell with the idea of serving in the Army. It was not until Randell pondered his future and decided what he wanted to do.
“I was at that age where I thought to myself ‘Is this what I really want to do for the rest of my life?’”
After much meditation, Randell decided to take the road his grandfather traveled.
“I looked into becoming a medic because a family friend, a corpsman in the Navy, told me about the amazing things he’s done in his career,” he said. “I also had a wife and son to think about, so I chose something in the medical profession because I thought it would be easier to find a job in the civilian world.”
Though friends were doubtful he would be able to survive the demanding challenges that lay before him, Randell was determined to complete his goal.
At first, Randell only wanted to fulfill his initial term and return to civilian life. Then a turn of events changed him when he deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I learned a lot from that experience,” said Randell. “After doing what I had done, and seen what I’ve seen, you start to put things into perspective. Words such as honor, virtue, and pride, I’ve learned, still have tangible meaning. You see it heavily represented in shows and movies about Soldiers who served in World War II. That same pride is still alive today.”
Randell said a source of his pride came from his multiple deployments.
“It was slow, but there was progress being made for these people. I witnessed the Iraqis slowly take command, control and pride in their country, and I’ve also seen the same gradual results everyday here in Afghanistan.” he said.
As for the flag he proudly wears on his sleeve, Randell spoke about how lucky he was to be serving a country that grants everybody the opportunity to aspire to whatever goal they desire.
Throughout his travels, Randell was frequently reminded how blessed he was to have the luxuries and freedoms his country provides.
“I have traveled all over the world, but there is nowhere on this planet I would rather be than in the United States. Where else can you find a place where a man can start off with nothing and end up with everything?” said Randell. “That’s the American dream.”
Ultimately, Randell wishes his service to his country will be enough to make certain his wife and children are safe. He believes in the notion that Soldiers who have been fighting since 1775 have helped to preserve the welfare of this nation and its people.
“I’ve made the commitment to lay my life down on the line for my country and I’ll be doing that until the day I die,” he said. “I believe this country was founded on the principles of God. I could’ve been born anywhere else, but I was blessed to be born in the United States and be known in history as an American Soldier.”
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – As U.S. Soldiers at the Operation Command Center-Region, or OCCR, at Forward Operating Base Gamberi continue to mentor their counterparts in the Afghan National Security Forces, their roles are starting to change.
The OCC-R is the hub where operational information from different branches of the ANSF gets processed. Representatives from the Afghan National Army, the Afghan Uniformed Police and the Afghan Local Police work in the OCC-R to ensure that all agencies know what the others are doing in the battle space.
The 201st Corps of the ANA recently completed a training course designed to help the soldiers perform their duties in the OCC-R. Officers and non-commissioned officers alike attended the course to prepare themselves for the soon-coming U.S. handover to the ANSF.
Unlike in earlier training courses, the Afghan Uniform Police and the Afghan National Army worked together to lead the class, and young Afghan lieutenants served as the primary instructors.
“This relationship [between the AUP and ANA] was very good. It was good good to bring all the parts together, because in the future they will share the information, and from learning together they know how to work together,” said Afghan 2nd Lt. Aman Allah, an OCC-R fire officer and one of the primary instructors for this course. “In the battle field they will help each other. This helps better the relationship between all the AUP and ANA.”
Some Afghan lieutenants have now demonstrated a strength beyond just military and police tactics: teaching.
“The lieutenant we had in the class as an instructor was great; he did a great job, excellent job when he was teaching,” said Lt. Col. Eik Mohammed, an AUP operations officer in OCC-R, who was the lead instructor at Gamberi was trained by U.S. forces during the beginning stages of this course.
“We should always select the young officers as instructors, they will do a great job,” he said.
The course was designed to teach ANA and AUP students many different skills related to the OCC-R and daily operations.
“We had OCC system operations and map reading, basic computer skills, then intelligence,” said Allah. “I was pretty sure of myself to be able to teach map reading, so I was really eager to be able to teach this and will be ready to teach this in the future.”
Although Allah is confident in his ability to share what he has learned, this is not the case with some of the students coming through the course.
“This is a very important class because most of the people we had come through the class didn’t know how to read a map or collect information and come up with a decision. Now everyone knows how to do it,” said Allah.
As a previous field commander himself, Mohammed quickly made clear the practical application and value of having this knowledge for the fire officers on the ground.
“They learned the map reading to be able to provide very good and accurate information to the commander, especially those areas that the commander is preparing to move in an operation,” said Mohammed. “Provide right information about the insurgents and the ANSF forces and the commander will be able to make the right decision.”
Not only will this course be beneficial for the students who attended, but also for those soldiers who will be working with these new graduates.
“It was a very good course that we attended, very beneficial for us,” said 2nd Lt. Abdul Roulf, a fire officer at the Kapisa provincial operations command center. “We learned a lot of information in this course. Everything we have learned, we will share when we go back to our units.”
This is not the last class for the OCC-R at FOB Gamberi. Some of the students will be back very shortly, but on the opposite side of the desk.
“During this class, we selected five current students to come back and teach and be good teachers in the future,” said Mohammed.
When U.S. troops began advising the Afghan forces, a common phrase heard was shona-ba-shona. In English, this translates to “shoulder-by-shoulder,” signifying cooperation between the two militaries. After courses like this one, however, the phrase is being applied more to the Afghans themselves.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — On a typical day at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Afghanistan, you will see Sgt. 1st Class Michelle John, the career counselor for the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, bustling around, talking to commanders and Soldiers, looking for eligble candidates to reenlist. When she isn’t reenlisting Soldiers, she is busy managing the FOB’s post exchange.
And when she is not performing those duties, she spends her spare time creating works of art.
John, a 34-year-old from New Hampton, Iowa, has long enjoyed passing her free time by painting and sketching. Though a seventh grade art class was the beginning of her fascination with creating artwork, she attributes her gift to her family.
“My dad can eye something, sketch it out and recreate it flawlessy from scratch. My mom should have been an interior decorator. She has the ability to completely transform a room and renovate a house. My oldest son Keagan is quite the little artist himself,” said John.
As accomplished an artist as she is, John’s artistic side can be hidden by the fact that she is also an accomplished athlete, basketball coach and mother to two boys, Tyree and Keagan. She is modest about her artwork and only reveals her pieces to her closest friends and colleagues.
“I’ve had friends come over and eye artwork on my wall. They ask where I bought the painting from, of which I simply tell them to turn the canvas over,” said John. “The looks on their faces are priceless.”
She has had many friends request paintings or new works of art. She gladly creates them and refuses any commission.
“I don’t ever see myself charging for my artwork. It is part of me and the emotions that I feel while creating it,” she said. “Why would I charge anyone for that?”
John is lighthearted, fun-loving, and is known as her battalion’s practical jokester, having been known to place pebbles in the shoes of various Soldiers in the unit, including some of the senior NCOs.
Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Greening, the command sergeant major for 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div., and possibly a victim of John’s practical jokes, was taken aback after seeing her artwork. He was so impressed that he requested that she replicate one of her pieces for him.
“It is absolutely amazing at the detail in her painting. She's a truly talented painter,” said Greening.
John is inspired by Claude Monet, a French artist and key figure responsible for the Impressionist movement that began in France in the early 1900’s.
“I love Monet paintings and try to do redo them, or a version of them,” John said. “He is my favorite painter. His style of painting allows you to be more free with your brush strokes and not as exact in detail and still have an incredible painting emerge. I just find random pictures of [Monet] paintings and if it catches my eye then I paint it.”
John continues to inspire Soldiers, friends and family with her work both in the Army and with a paint brush.
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