News: Marine Mentors Afghan Soldiers
Story by Christopher Dewitt
MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- No driver's license, no driver's education courses, no time behind the wheel of a vehicle ever … no problem for one Marine mentor responsible for teaching Afghan National Army soldiers how to drive.
Sgt. Nathan Brewer, Driver's Training Course lead team mentor, stationed out of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., heads a team of five at ANA Camp Shaheen with the challenging task of training basic driving skills.
Not only is the team in charge of teaching Afghan soldiers how to drive, they are also tasked with ensuring the future of driver's training for ANA 209th Corps, which conducts missions in Afghanistan's northern provinces.
"Our mission is to set up a foundation for the ANA to complete driver's training and then to develop instructors from those students that can teach it to themselves," said Brewer, Marine Air Control Squadron 1 licensing non-commissioned officer in charge. "Basically, we are here to train ourselves out of a job – and to an extent I feel we've done that."
In order to complete their mission, Brewer and his team have instituted some unique curriculum changes to better prepare a select few to become teachers themselves.
"Marines here are the only group that have incorporated literacy training into their schedule by augmenting the program by an hour and a half each day," said literacy site manager, speaking on a required condition of anonymity. "[Marines] are trying to get them to teach [ANA soldiers] and need to be able to read to do that."
Since April 2009, more than 6,500 soldiers have been tested inside the 209th Corps with a resulting 14 percent literacy rate prior to any formal training. Instituting the literacy training has done more than just increase ANA literacy rates.
"Because of the literacy training, Marines have been the first group to have Afghan trainers conducting driver's training with ANA soldiers," said the literacy site manager concerning the one Marine group out of six total stationed around the country.
Marines conducting the vehicle training courses were sent from various bases as individuals, meeting up at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for a two-week training course prior to arrival. Brewer was faced with just two weeks notice prior to deployment but found himself right at home when it came to the task at hand.
"I do licensing day-in and day-out back home, so being here is second nature," Brewer, the 23-year-old, Kansas City, Kan., native said who also put previous deployment experiences to use. "During the hands-on training, we placed them in realistic scenarios versus running them through traffic cones."
Mentoring in Afghanistan isn't without its problems and Brewer and his team often find themselves facing issues other than the obvious language barrier.
"Lack of fuel and other resources was sometimes a problem when we needed to conduct actual driving," Brewer said, also noting that cultural differences such as the Muslim tradition of multiple prayers throughout the day also affect their teaching schedule. "We do what we have to; adapt and overcome. I'm very happy about the progress that we've made – it's over my expectations, especially considering our limited resources."
Working so closely with ANA soldiers has been a challenge for the young Marine who admits that he had to make some mental changes in order to be an effective mentor.
"We can't come here and impose our will, as mentors, we have to help them along," Brewer, the 2004 Washington High School graduate, said. "I think sometimes we have to come down off our pedestal, put our cultural differences aside, and work with them – be a friend instead of an instructor."
As Brewer nears the completion of his team's three-month mission in northern Afghanistan, he is in awe of what they were able to get done during their short time with the 209th Corps.
"Seeing the training unfold, improvements since adding literacy training, and seeing progress shows me they are becoming self-sufficient and lets me know we won't be here forever," Brewer stated. "When I sit back and look at the impact of what we do, it's really humbling."
Brewer added that he was proud of his team because "nothing would have been accomplished without them" and as far as the short-notice of this deployment and trials along the way, "I wouldn't change this for anything."