Photo Information

Afghan soldiers with the 3rd Mobile Strike Force successfully lift a Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle with simulated battle damage out of a ditch during vehicle recovery training aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Feb. 23, 2014. Marines with MSF Security Force Assistance Advisor Team have been working with the 3rd MSF since August, teaching the soldiers basic vehicle maintenance and proper vehicle recovery in order to sustain continuous combat operations.

Photo by Sgt. Frances Johnson

Marines guide Afghan 3rd Mobile Strike Force toward success

3 Mar 2014 | Sgt. Frances Johnson

The Marines of Mobile Strike Force Security Force Assistance Advisor Team brought their Afghan counterparts of the 3rd Mobile Strike Force to Camp Leatherneck, for vehicle recovery training with simulated Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles with catastrophic damage, Feb. 23 and 24.

The MSF SFAAT has been working with the Afghan soldiers of 3rd MSF for the past several months building strong relationships and a vehicle maintenance program.

“This class builds on their abilities as maintainers to recover vehicles from the battlefield,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Mihalcik, maintenance officer advisor, MSF SFAAT, and a native of Pittsburgh. “We are teaching them the proper ways to hook up their winches, their cables, and using proper and safe techniques to pull out vehicles and bring them back to the kandak, which is their equivalent of battalion, for repairs.”

When this team of MSF advisors arrived during August 2013, the Afghan soldiers had limited repair parts and very little experience repairing the vehicles. They built a solid maintenance program from the ground up with the guidance and mentorship from the MSF advisors.

“As they grew more familiar with their vehicles we taught them series operations,” said Mihalcik. “We taught them how the engines work and how to repair everything on a vehicle. Their confidence and knowledge has developed to the point where it overflows into their ability to do technical recoveries.”

“At first I was a little skeptical,” said Cpl. Nathan Pilla, mechanic advisor, MSF SFAAT, and a native of Marine on St. Croix, Minn. “This is a different endeavor than I’ve ever taken on before, but it’s fun to work with them. I really like passing the knowledge I have on to others and watching them become successful.”

Mihalcik explained that the Afghan soldiers’ confidence has grown rapidly due to the fact that they learn quickly and correct their own mistakes once they know what to look for.

“It’s no different than teaching a Marine mechanic how to work on a tank or truck,” said Mihalcik. “What he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know. So you inspire him, and you show him how to do it; then they memorize it, and they continue to move forward with their skills.”

“When we first got here we were very hands-on,” said Pilla. “That changed when we started pulling engine packs out of the vehicles. We pulled out the first one, showed them how to do it, and told them we would pull out two more the following day. When we came back the next day, they were already out. After that, we realized they understand and learn quickly, so we took a step back. I think it works a lot better that way; the only guidelines I give them are to take their time, don’t break anything and do it the safest way possible, other than that it’s their show.”

The chance to make a lasting, positive impact on the 3rd MSF is important to the Marines of the MSF SFAAT.

“We understand this is our one shot,” explained Mihalcik. “Our one opportunity to help these guys get where they need to be, and the Afghans see that we’re passionate about advising them and fighting shoulder to shoulder with them whenever we have to.”

One basic concept the MSF SFAAT talked about with their 3rd MSF counterparts was pride of ownership. Mihalcik explained how the 3rd MSF saw that the maintenance of their vehicles meant they were able to continuously support their own combat operations.

“The 3rd MSF has been a total success story,” said Mihalcik. “Since we’ve been here, they have been able to get out and bring the fight to the enemy. I think the MSF soldiers are proud to be in an elite unit like the mobile strike force, and it’s contagious throughout the kandak. The soldiers are aware of their power and effectiveness on the battlefield. Their pride of ownership and what they do for their country mirrors the everyday pride Marines have for their country.”

“We realized these guys are just like us; they just speak a different language,” explained Pilla. “There are so many Afghan soldiers that love what they do. They love working and love learning. I would be upset if someone was talking bad about my country, and they’re the same way. It’s really cool to see the pride they have, it reminds me of the pride I have for my country.  They are a hardworking group of people and they do care about their country.”