LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (May 24, 2013) Twenty soldiers from the Afghan National Army, 201st Corps received certificates of completion after finishing a five-week driver’s training course at Forward Operating Base Gamberi, May 22.
The graduation ceremony included the driver’s training instructors from Raytheon, Intelligence Mobile Education and Training Team, ANA Lt. Col. Abdul Latif, commander of the 3rd Kandak (Battalion), 4th Brigade, 201st Corps and his advisor, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Doug Johnson, plans officer with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
“The ANA soldiers did well and I want to thank all of the mentors that taught this class,” said Latif, following the ceremony.
The commander said there are a lot of vehicles in his kandak. Latif stressed the importance of his soldiers being safe drivers and said the driver’s course is important for the development of his kandak and the ANA.
“Now that they are certified drivers, they have the responsibility to teach the rest of the soldiers in the kandak,” said Latif.
The five week course teaches ANA soldiers driver’s safety and the preventative maintenance of their vehicles. The students are primarily trained to drive light tactical vehicles and humvees which are commonly used by the ANA.
“The coalition forces are going back to their homes. Our military should do all our own missions and be able to drive our own equipment,” said Latif.
ANA Sgt. Nazar Gul said the class was very good and said he appreciated the instructors who conducted themselves professionally.
“We learned a lot in this class from map reading to the hazards of unsafe driving,” said Gul. “What we learned in this course, [if God is willing], I will teach my soldiers as well.”
He saw the group of non-drivers develop into confident drivers who constantly stressed safety, especially while driving. During the class, the ANA were taught how to shift gears, the use of hand and arm signals and maintenance on their vehicles.
“After training the soldiers for five weeks, I was glad to see we had all 20 students graduate today. Ten of the graduates are certified to return to their kandak and be instructors,” said Rudy Gomez, with Raytheon, Intelligence Mobile Education and Training Team.
Gomez said the students in the class had never driven a vehicle before, buthad the desire to learn.
“This class was dedicated to being in the class, when the weather was too hot, they devised ways to come in two hours earlier to avoid the heat and get the full training,” said Gomez, a native of Orange County, Calif. “I believe they will go back to their kandak and stress safety, which is what we stressed from day one.”
Leo Hernandez, a team leader with Raytheon, said the graduating class was amazing and hopes the next class will be the same.
“The [driver’s training course] is changing the ANA soldier’s mentality,” Hernandez said. “We teach them how to operate vehicles, safely.”
The El Paso, Texas, native said the first week of class begins with learning the basics of driving and focuses on safety. After the first week the instructors focus on preventative maintenance checks and services of vehicles. As an advisor, Hernandez said he enjoys watching the driving course graduation ceremonies.
Following the ceremony, the group took pictures and the students thanked and shook hands with their instructors. Some of the ANA soldiers even expressed their gratitude by giving Hernandez a hug.
“I am very happy,” Hernandez said. “Everytime we graduate a class it just shows me Afghanistan is moving forward a little more, and soon we will not have to be here anymore.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Elements from Security Force Advisory and Assistance Team 13 trained Afghan National Army soldiers on the M2 .50 caliber machine gun weapons system at Forward Operating Base Tagab, May 18.
The SFAAT 13 advisors met with their Afghan counterparts at the motor pool on FOB Tagab to perform the hands-on training with ANA soldiers assigned to the 2nd Kandak, or battalion, 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps. The outdoor training was to familiarize the ANA noncommissioned officers with the headspace and timing of the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on ANA vehicles.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joshua Lakey serves as advisor to ANA Maj. Ullah Aziz, the executive officer and acting kandak commander. The native of Atlanta, Ga., also serves as operations, or S3, advisor for SFAAT 13.
Lakey said they meet with their ANA counterparts individually to discuss any projects they are working on. The advisors visit their counterparts regularly to provide ANA leadership with solutions for any issues they might have.
During a recent joint operation, Lakey said, there was an incident, when under fire, an ANA soldier’s .50 caliber machine gun jammed, rendering the weapon inoperable. Unfortunately, the soldier did not know how to make the weapon fully operational again.
“They were familiar with some [.50 caliber machine gun] training, but they weren’t trained well enough to where they could execute it under fire,” said Lakey. “So that is what brought up today’s training event.”
U.S. Army Sgt. Brandon Terrette, a signal support systems specialist, provided the ANA noncommissioned officers with the knowledge so they can return to their platoons and train their soldiers on the weapon system.
Terrette is the SFAAT 13, communications noncommissioned officer-in-charge and serves as the ANA communications, or S6, advisor. He is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Regiment, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
The morning began with the U.S. Soldiers walking to the ANA side of the FOB and meeting with their ANA counterparts. The .50 caliber machine gun was removed from the turret of an ANA Humvee and used for the class.
Under the mid-morning sun, the SFAAT advisors showed the soldiers how to safely take the weapon apart and reassemble it. The group of noncommissioned officers encircled Terrette and listened close to what the advisor had to say.
Through the use of an interpreter, the advisors answered questions the ANA soldiers had about the weapon system. With the machine gun on the floor, Terrette showed them how to safely disassemble it.
ANA Sgt. Nemullah, like many Afghans who go by one name, has been in the army for more than three years. He said he is a platoon sergeant and enjoys being a noncommissioned officer.
“I have to educate and train my soldiers how to use this weapon, that is my job,” said Nemullah.
After a familiarization with the components of the M2, the ANA soldiers removed the barrel, picked it up from the motor pool floor and repositioned on its mount atop the Humvee.
Next, the advisors instructed and supervised the ANA soldiers on the headspace and timing of the .50-caliber machine gun. The adjustment procedures must be performed each time the barrel is installed. Firing a weapon that has improperly set headspace and timing could damage the machine gun, or cause injury to the gunner.
With the use of a headspace and timing gauge and a translated version of an M2 machine gun technical manual, the ANA soldiers took turns removing and reinstalling the barrel and properly checked the headspace and timing of their weapon. They followed the steps by-the-book and each of the soldiers practiced performing a functions check on the gun.
“Today’s training was very good, we’ve had this training a long time ago and right now they refreshed our mind. We are very happy with the training from our advisors,” said Nemullah.
The ANA platoon sergeant said it is important for his soldiers to know how to use every weapon in his kandak.
“I tell my soldiers this is our country, and we have to defend it from whoever is trying to be against our country,” said Nemullah.
Terrette is a native of Phoenix, Ariz., and said the SFAAT team does not visit the ANA side of the camp as often as they have in the past when they first arrived at FOB Tagab.
“We advise every other day so they can grow on their own, and we can check on their progress,” said Terrette. “We train the NCOs so they can be self-reliant, and spend time training their soldiers.”
“The XO does a wonderful job listening to our recommendations and understands what we are trying to accomplish,” said Terrette, speaking of the new leadership in the kandak.
Aziz said Coalition Forces do not provide the support they used to and that is not a bad thing. He said they helped the ANA in many ways from providing literacy classes to weapons training.
“Right now the SFAAT teams are allowing us to stand up on our own two feet,” said Aziz.
As the acting commander, Aziz said he holds officers and senior noncommissioned officers accountable for their soldiers and said he makes sure they do their jobs.
“In the past, the U.S. Soldiers did a lot for the ANA, and that allowed some soldiers to become lazy,” said Aziz. “Now the ANA will have to remember all of their previous training so they can do their jobs by themselves.”
Terrette said the ANA soldiers maintain constant communication with the check points and combat outposts near the base.
“They have gone from checking on things every once in a while to checking on things every day,” said Terrette.
Lakey, a native of Atlanta, Ga., said he has witnessed the vast improvements the ANA have made during his time as an advisor. He said his mission as an advisor has been full of challenges.
“These guys know how to fight, but they don’t always have the tools available,” said Lakey. “I hope they can get their supply system fixed sooner than later so that it will allow resources get to where they are needed.”
As his redeployment back home draws closer, he said he hopes the ANA will continue to grow and make the mission their own, not only for themselves but also for their country.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - The mission of Security Force Assistance Advisory Team 15 is to advise Afghan National Army soldiers on field artillery, reconnaissance, engineering and other operations at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High.
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to SFAAT 15 advise ANA soldiers of the 4th Kandak, (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 201st Corps, during their missions as they conduct independent operations and prepare to assume responsibility for the security of their country.
“Working together every day, it’s really rewarding to see them progress, and conduct independent operations,” said U.S. Army Capt. Zhuoyi Gu, SFAAT 15 reconnaissance company advisor.
He and the rest of his team replaced French army reconnaissance advisors over 6 months ago. Gu is assigned to 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
In his opinion, the ANA’s main challenges are dealing with maintenance and logistics issues. Gu said there is a logistics advisor assigned to SFAAT 15 and works with his ANA counterpart to deal with those issues.
“But as far as going out and being able to conduct independent operations, providing security in an area and being able to engage insurgent elements, they are very successful with that,” said Gu.
The native of Gaithersburg, Md., said his advisory role has been a worthwhile experience.
“We interact with our ANA counterparts frequently,” said Gu. “In Afghanistan, your word means a lot. Being able to build that close personal relationship and establish trust is really important.
When SFAAT 15 arrived at FOB Naghlu High, Gu said the French had a more direct role in training and supporting the ANA.
“Our strategy was more hands-off, and see where they are at,” said Gu. “We advised them when necessary, allowing them to operate.”
Gu said SFAAT 15 interjects to make improvements, if and when the ANA makes mistakes.
“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the ANA can do what they need to do independently of advisors, and they do it all the time,” said Gu.
In his opinion, the ANA noncommissioned officers are no different than U.S. NCOs. He has seen them take the initiative to train soldiers on primary weapons instruction and later that week, go to the firing range to familiarize the ANA soldiers on their weapon systems.
SFAAT 15 senior advisor, Maj. Demetrius Perry, is on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He has experience serving as an advisor with the special police transition team during one of his two deployments to Iraq. Perry serves with 1-9th Cav. Regt., 4th BCT, 1st Cav. Div.
Perry said the ANA have their own way of conducting business. If U.S. forces come to Afghanistan and try to teach our way of thinking, the ANA forces will not listen.
He emphasized the importance of building a relationship with his ANA counterpart to the other advisors.
“If you don’t have good rapport with them, they will keep all their knowledge a secret,” said Perry. “They will listen to you offering advice and let you give classes, and when you are done they will tell you, ‘Hey, I ran the Russians out of Afghanistan, you aren’t teaching me anything new.’”
Perry said the best part of his advisory mission is the informal interactions he has with the kandak commander, ANA Col. Gul Aqa Shirzard. He said whenever they meet, they talk business but then they talk about other things. For example, over a cup of tea at the ANA base at FOB Naghlu Riverside, he gets to know the colonel by asking casual questions like what it was like growing up in Afghanistan.
The two leaders have developed such a close bond, Shirzard told the soldiers in his kandak, whenever he is out of town on business, Perry is in charge.
“I’ve learned a lot just from talking to the ANA leadership in a relaxed way,” said Perry. “I’ve found out more by having those informal conversations than you will find in a class or in any book. It is those interactions that I will carry with me forever.”
Perry acknowledged that being an advisor takes a special skill set, and even called the mission fun.
“The ANA is good; they are very capable of securing their country,” said Perry. “They take care of soldiers and their families; they just don’t do it exactly the way we do it. Once you understand that, your advisory mission will be very rewarding.”
The native of Houston, Texas, said once that relationship and rapport is established the advisory mission will be something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Perry said he is still in contact with soldiers he worked with while working as an advisor in Iraq.
“There are guys that I met and worked with in Iraq that are now Facebook friends of mine,” said Perry.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – United States Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ashton B. Carter met with Afghan and U.S. Army leadership at FOB Gamberi May 13, 2013, for a round-table discussion on current operations in Afghanistan.
KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – An Afghan National Army vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during a patrol. Every soldier survived but an M-16 rifle inside the vehicle received damaged to its barrel.
United States Army small arms/artillery repairers are training ANA soldiers on the maintenance and repair of M-16 rifles at Forward Operating Base Naghlu High, so they can repair damaged weapons and put them back in the fight.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gary Ramosnunez and Pfc. William Eldridge’s mission is to visit forward operating bases in Regional Command-East and make sure Soldiers’ weapon systems work.
Eldridge said they are trained to fix various weapons systems, from the “triple sevens,” [M777 howitzer], to mortars, all the way down to pistols.
The weapons experts work at Bagram Airfield and are responsible for keeping their brigade’s weapon systems fully mission capable. Both serve as small arms/artillery repairers assigned to Company A, 27th Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Eldridge, a native of Boise, Idaho, said he has been busy since arriving in Afghanistan because some weapons he encountered in-country were overdue for services. He has visited FOB Naghlu High, FOB Gamberi, FOB Xio Haq, and FOB Tagab. Basically, anywhere there are 4-1 Soldiers with weapons needing repair or service, he has been there.
“When any [weapons system] is broken we travel to the FOB and fix it,” said Ramosnunez.
“We have people going in and out of the FOBs on convoys, we want to make sure every weapon system works, in case they ever have to use it,” said Ramosnunez.
Another aspect of his job is training the ANA on various weapon systems. He trains Afghan soldiers into becoming instructors. Once qualified they can train fellow soldiers in their units how to properly maintain and repair their weapons.
“It’s a pretty fulfilling job,” said Eldridge. “I enjoy it because I like to repair things.”
He said the plan is to teach them day-by-day so the ANA soldiers are not overwhelmed. Eldridge said they will eventually train the ANA on the M249 light machine gun and .50-caliber machine gun.
Ramosnunez, a native of Cidra, Puerto Rico, said he loves his job and enjoys interacting with ANA soldiers during the weapons instructor course. He says the ANA he trains are very motivated, and want to do their job. In his opinion, training them how to fix their weapons systems will give them an edge in the fight.
Ramosnunez has three previous deployments to Iraq; this is his first deployment to Afghanistan.
For the ANA, the role of weapons maintainer is vital. They will act as first-line maintainers on their unit’s weapon systems.
“It is important for their force protection, so when we leave, they will be self-sustained,” said Ramosnunez.
Most of the ANA soldiers have experience from previous weapons training, so for some it was a refresher course.
Ramosnunez said the class is driven by the ANA, noting that they are quick to learn and learn faster by working hands-on.
“Yesterday they asked me if we could teach them how to change a barrel on an M16, so today we showed them how to do it with the correct tools,” said Ramosnunez. “We do whatever they want to do or whatever they want to know about a weapon.”
The informal class demonstrations are supposed to familiarize them with the mechanics of an M16; they take it apart and put it back together again. During the weapons instructor course, the ANA soldiers are encouraged to ask questions to make sure they understand each step. A translator is there to facilitate communications between them.
The two weapons specialists showed the ANA soldiers how to properly change the barrel of the M16 damaged in a vehicle hit by an IED. With the proper tools he made sure the ANA soldiers had a chance to do it, not just watch.
Once the ANA soldiers have completed the weapons instructor course they should be experienced and confident enough to instruct their fellow soldiers in proper weapons maintenance and repair.
“We provide the tools, technical manuals and instruction,” said Ramosnunez. “So that when we leave they should be able to fix their own weapon systems.”
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