News: Radio check: Afghan soldiers improve communications skill
Story by Sgt. Ned Johnson
CAMP SHORABAK, Afghanistan - A Marine raises his hand and counts down in Dari. At “yak”, or one, a squad of Afghan soldiers runs across a field to a radio antenna, carries the equipment to the starting point and begins to earnestly assemble the antenna.
As the soldiers work closely with one another, Staff Sgt. Leo Tapia, the radio chief with the Signals Kandak Adviser Team, supervises the training and shouts encouragement to them in Dari.
Down the road, Sgts. Adam Phillips and Reginald Taylor, both data chiefs, supervise Afghan soldiers as they assemble a satellite receiver and connect phones and internet to the satellite network.
This training is just a normal day for the Marines with the Signals Kandak Adviser Team who train and advise the Afghan National Army soldiers with the Signals Kandak, 215th Corps on using the equipment purchased by the Afghan National Army.
The Signals Kandak, which is similar to a Marine communications battalion, is composed of radio operators and data specialists who provide communications support to their fellow soldiers in the 215th Corps. The Marine adviser teams provide support and training to improve the soldiers’ capabilities.
“I want them to be effective communicators, so we build them from the ground up,” Tapia said. “I don’t want them out there in a real life situation and unable to communicate.”
Since the Kandak was formed in spring 2012, the soldiers have learned a lot, and now the Marines are working on fine tuning those skills.
“They know all the characteristics of all their radio equipment,” said Tapia, a 30-year-old native of Yakima, Wash. “I quiz them on a daily basis. I ask all the soldiers questions about each radio, and they have really impressed me.”
While the Marines spend all morning and part of the afternoon training the soldiers, they are also building relationships with their fellow Afghan communicators.
“It was very important for me to build rapport with my soldiers before I jumped into any classes. Getting them to trust me and respect me was the most important thing I could have done,” Tapia said. “My Afghan name is Mir Wis. I speak Dari with them all the time, and they like that.”
While the radio operators assembled antennas, the data specialists trained with their satellite communications network. The soldiers can easily assemble and disassemble the satellite receiver, Phillips said. Now they are working on problem solving.
“It has been a real challenge,” said Phillips, a 25-year-old native of Tehachapi, Calif. “But when they do awesome it is so rewarding to see.”
The soldiers can successfully set up the satellite to connect to a communications network in Kabul, Phillips said. The network also allows them to setup landline phones and access the internet.
At one point Afghan soldiers went to a base in Sangin and repaired the Afghan Army’s communications by replacing the cable and changing the cable tips. They completed the job without the assistance of their Marine advisers, Phillips said with a smile.
The Afghan soldiers also understand why communications is important and are grateful for the equipment the Afghan Army has supplied them.
“This technology is great,” said Ayaz Ahmad, a data specialist with the Signals Kandak. “It makes our job easier when we are going in on a mission and have to setup communications.”
Ahmad also said he is proud to serve his country because he loves it and that he has learned a lot from the Marines.
The Marines have worked hard to ensure the soldiers have learned, Tapia said. This includes being patient with the soldiers and working daily through the cultural and language barriers.
“It makes me extremely proud to be able to say I helped train close to 100 soldiers on radio communications,” Tapia said. “The end result is that they will take this training and use it to support their future mission.”