CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
They’re young, but they don’t have the luxury of claiming inexperience; they have to make life-and-death decisions in the blink of an eye. Equipped with modern technology and senses sharpened to detect the tiniest irregularities, they’re poised to act. They are the small unit leaders – modern warriors.
Here in Central Helmand province, Regimental Combat Team 1 knows that Afghanistan’s future security depends largely on sharp, tactically sound non-commissioned officers within the Afghan National Army. So, the RCT-1 Embedded Training Team started Camp Dwyer’s first ANA instructor course. Nine students graduated, Oct. 27, and the ETT hopes the grads will continue to hone their NCOs’ skills – NCOs who will be taking a progressively larger role in their nation’s security.
Primarily, the course provided additional infantry training and leadership techniques to ANA staff NCOs, said Sgt. Michael Mondt, the lead instructor with the Regimental Combat Team 1 Embedded Training Team.
“I think it’s one of the best things we can do – equip their NCOs to teach their own people,” said Mondt, from Winnemucca, Nev. “Eventually, they are going to have to make it without us.”
During the four-week course, the ANA students, most of whom are staff sergeants, received training in land navigation, weapons maintenance, weapons handling, patrolling and sensitive site exploitation. The mornings were dedicated to classroom instruction. In the afternoon, they tested their new knowledge through practical application scenarios modeled after the current battlefield.
“If we’re working on searches, we’ll set up IED lanes, vehicles that have IED making materials, and personnel who have weapons hidden on them,” said Mondt.
Capt. Stephen Kulas, the operations officer with the ETT, said the course supplemented the recent graduates’ core war fighting skills.
“I think they [already] had a pretty decent understanding of how to be a basic infantryman,” said Kulas, from Ludlow, Mass. “I think what we did was just work on the foundation that was built and ... maybe give them a different train of thought on how to do business in a [counterinsurgency] environment.”
Gunnery Sgt. Edward Allier, the senior enlisted Marine with the ETT, called his experience here thus far “a wave-top of a 20-year career.” He believes that the ETT’s role here is invaluable.
“You can preach all you want,” said Allier, from Ft. Myers, Fla. “Once you get down and start living with the people you train, you start sharing their risks. You start reducing the cultural barriers that are there.”
The graduation ceremony drew several distinguished ANA officials, including Brig. Gen. Shujaee and Col. Abdul Kareem, the commanding general and operations officer for 1st Brigade, 215th Corps. Shujaee was the featured speaker at the ceremony. Afghan National Army Col. Mustafa, the Garrison Support Unit Commander for 1/215, was also in attendance.
Maj. Derek Wastila, the officer-in-charge of the ETT, was present as well. He called the ANA a tough, capable force and said he feels comfortable fighting beside them, against the Taliban.
Kulas said the ANA soldiers weren’t the only ones who learned something during the course. Incidentally, the Marines gained a better understanding of Afghan language and culture – lessons that will serve them well in the immediate future, he said.
“We all bleed the same blood,” said Kulas. “We’re all here to fight a [counterinsurgency] fight against terrorists.”