PATROL BASE JAKER, NAWA, Afghanistan --
More than 60 citizens from Nawa District gathered at Patrol Base Jaker, near the district center area, for Nawa’s first-ever Afghan National Army recruiting and information event April 12.
Attendees and ANA soldiers displaying automatic weapon systems mounted atop their trucks, watched a squad of soldiers conduct a close order drill demonstration, passed in review of Afghan and Marine officers, and marched around a group of citizens.
“Look at these soldiers, they are not from here,” Col. Ali Ahmad, an ANA cultural and religious advisor, said to the crowd, pointing out physical differences in the soldiers who hail from various parts of the country. “If you join the army, you will travel and serve the entire country, not just the town you’re from or the tribe you belong to – but all of Afghanistan.”
Men young and old nodded their heads in agreement as Ahmad described the benefits the army offers each individual, and how military service was important to the future of an independent and free Afghanistan.
“One message Col. Ahmad delivered in particular was to dispel myths and counter Taliban propaganda about religion,” said Maj. Ramon Garcia, the Marine officer-in-charge of Embedded Partnering Team 1-1-215, which helps train the ANA battalion based in Nawa. “The Taliban said the ANA is very secular, that it’s against the five pillars of Islam, and soldiers are not allowed to pray. He explained how they pray five times a day, and the ANA encourages their soldiers to practice the tenets of Islam. I think it dispelled a lot of the propaganda, especially since he’s a religious leader within the battalion.”
Many of the attendees to the event were local farmers or laborers, but most of whom were outside the qualifying ages of 18-32 for military service. Despite that fact, Garcia said having so many elder males attend the event to hear about serving their country was beneficial, since those men have influence in the local communities.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how articulate Col. Ahmad was in talking to the people about the ANA and its significance to the future of Afghanistan,” said Garcia. “He didn’t conceal anything. He was very upfront and forthright with them in everything he talked about. That’s especially important because most of the front row was elders, who will help spread the word, and the spoken word is very powerful here.”
Even though 15-year-old farmhand Mohammed Shah attended the event at the encouragement of a local elder man, he said he was not particularly interested in joining the army, but would share the information he learned at the event with friends.
“Today I learned about the army and how soldiers work and help the country,” said Shah. “I don’t think I will join, but I’ll tell others what they said here today. We need a good army.”
For those men who were of age at the event, most said service in the army was not necessarily appealing because they had successful farms, businesses or families to care for in Nawa. Although nobody came forward to sign up for service that day, Garcia still considered the event a success and hopes to make future recruiting events larger, more frequent, and better advertised to have more military-aged males in attendance.