CAMP DWYER, Afghanistan --
With boundless motivation but limited experience, the grimacing novice soldiers attempted to muscle together machine gun parts in a fashion that geometry wouldn’t allow.
It’s the same song for beginner soldiers at military installations around the world, and the Afghan National Army is no exception.
However, there has been one very significant change here. Now, ANA instructors – not Marines – guide them through the age-old ballad of the boot.
The Regimental Combat Team 1 Embedded Training Team still provides classroom instruction, but the ANA instructors lead most of the practical application exercises.
Staff Sgt. Dost Mohammad, from Takhar province, has been teaching a lot since graduating from Camp Dwyer’s first ANA instructor course last month. He ‘s easy to recognize, with skin stretched tight over his hollow cheeks and a shy smile that appears whenever he tries to speak English to the Marine instructors.
Gunnery Sgt. Edward Allier, the senior enlisted Marine with the ETT, pulled him aside after a vehicle checkpoint class, Dec. 8.
“The next time we teach this class, the intent is to have you teach it,” Allier told him.
Mohammad gently shifted his weight back and forth, smiling his signature smile with his hands tucked into the front pockets of his woodland camouflage service jacket. Speaking through an interpreter, he replied that he is eager to assume a greater role in the mentoring process.
Any instructor from the Regimental Combat Team 1 Embedded Training team will tell you that developing leadership within the ANA has been a challenge. The language and cultural barriers are immense. According to Sgt. Michael Mondt, the lead instructor with the ETT, only three students in the current basic training follow-on class are literate.
Lance Cpl. Aaron Ellison, an assistant instructor, said the students sometimes have a difficult time understanding each other.
“They have two or three different languages at the ANA camp,” explained Ellison. “Sometimes, we have two or three different guys speaking before the class gets what the instruction is. I would tell my interpreter what to say in Pashto, one of the ANA soldiers would say it in Dari, and then another soldier would say it in Farsi.”
Allier believes the best way of overcoming language and cultural barriers is to develop competent ANA instructors.
The instructors’ value isn’t lost on ANA leadership either, which sometimes leads to conflict between the ANA and ETT, Allier said. The ANA often wants to immediately send them to deployed units, whereas the ETT is inclined to keep them here to develop training consistency in the instructor core.
However, the occasional friction has positive implications for coalition forces. The demand for the instructors shows that International Security Assistance Force is developing useful small unit leaders in the ANA. The ANA and ISAF hope these instructors will eventually form the nucleus for a more sophisticated Afghan military.
“All of the soldiers are my brothers,” said Mohammad, speaking through an interpreter. “I want them to be safe. The good things I have learned through the instructors, I want them to learn.”
“I was once a student, learning in these classes,” said Mohammad. “Now, I am standing in front of the soldiers, and I am trying to convey the same message to the soldiers.”