News: Marines overcome language barriers, teach ANA mortar systems
Story by Cpl. Timothy Lenzo
PATROL BASE DETROIT, Afghanistan –Afghan National Army soldiers march in and form a semicircle around their Marine instructor. They pull out notepads and pencils and are already jotting down notes before the class even starts.
Sergeant Thomas Brown, squad leader, Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, taught 60mm mortar classes to Afghan soldiers. The class adds a new weapon to the Afghans’ growing arsenal.
“Being able to use a mortar system can change the outcome on the battlefield,” said Brown, from Grand Junction, Colo. “It’s different than using machine guns and sniper rifles. The mortar system can hit larger targets and from farther distances.”
Brown, a trained mortarman, taught at 1st Marine Division schools in Camp Pendleton, Calif. As an instructor, he developed his communication skills. These skills are invaluable when trying to overcome the language and cultural barriers of teaching the ANA soldiers.
“Brown’s ability to explain ideas and concepts using not only an interpreter but body language and hand gestures makes him a great teacher for the Afghans,” said 1st Lt. Stephen Huff, Brown’s platoon commander. “He’s patient and works well with them. He’s done a tremendous job training and teaching classes to the ANA.”
Some adjustments were made to accommodate the cultural differences.
“Most of our classes were during Ramadan,” Brown said. “We had to be mindful of eating or drinking water in front of them.”
The language barrier proved difficult for the Marines as well.
“It’s really difficult to explain the small, technical things about a weapon when you don’t speak the language,” Brown added.
He saw these issues as a challenge and not a problem. He worked with the interpreters to make sure all the subjects were thoroughly talked about and reviewed.
“One of his strengths is being able to break the subject matter down into something Marines and ANA can use and put into practice,” said Huff, from Franklin County, Va.
Brown and the rest of his platoon trained the Afghans in various classes including map reading and land navigation, machine guns, mortars and combat reporting.
“We are helping the ANA become more independent,” said Brown. “The skills taught in these classes will not only help the Afghans be more (self-sufficient) but also give them an edge during combat.”
Brown often works with one of his team leaders, Cpl. Berk Mandalinci. The two build off of each other, with Brown taking the lead and Mandalinci adding to Brown’s lessons.
Mandalinci, from The Woodlands, Texas, said this teaching style works well with the Afghans. It helps ensure they do not miss anything, while keeping the lessons short and concise.
“The Afghans are really attentive, always taking notes and asking questions,” Mandalinci said.
The Marines’ training of the ANA does not end when the lesson ends. They often go on integrated patrols, discussing tactics and positions.
Recently on a patrol, Brown and ANA 1st Lt. Asrar Hussain, an officer with 3rd Tolai, 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, were seen discussing map reading and GPS coordinates.
“We work shoulder to shoulder or ‘shana-ba-shana’ with the Marines,” explained Hussain, referring to a common Afghan phrase. “We really appreciate the classes the Marines taught us and are ready to work.”
First Bn., 1st Marines, return to the States soon, but Brown is comfortable leaving the area in the hands of the ANA, the same Afghans he worked and trained with, he said.
“I’m very confident in (the ANA’s) abilities,” Brown added. “We don’t go out with them on every single patrol, and they handle themselves very proficiently and are very tactically sound.”