ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Part 1: In-Processing
As the recruits stepped off the bus in Zabul province, five Afghan Uniform Police officers were there to great them.
Within the next week, more than 250 recruits will arrive for training at the Police Training Center in the capital city of Qalat, and the AUP instructors will guide them through the six-week course. Eight U.S. Marines will serve as mentors.
“This is our first class that we will train from start to finish,” said Staff Sgt. Jose Ortiz, senior training mentor. “The last class was double the size of a normal class and this class will be just as big, if not bigger.”
The Marines are part of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, reservists deployed from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, out of Houston, Texas.
They arrived at the training center, Jan. 30, and helped with the last few weeks of training for the previous class. Approximately 252 students graduated.
Along with the Marine mentors, there is one U.S. contracted civilian mentor and five Afghan instructors.
Ortiz said with this class, they would get a chance to mold the recruits right from the start.
“We are not here to change their culture or even gauge their progress by our standards, because truthfully, it is night and day,” he said. “We are here to help them through the process as mentors and hopefully soon, just stand back and watch.
Upon arrival, students are issued uniforms and taken through the U.S. and Afghan in-processing system. In-processing can take up to a week.
Each student is registered into the Handheld Interagency Identification Detection Equipment, or HIIDE system. The biometrics system is used to verify identity. It scans the iris, takes fingerprints and loads the data for future use. If a person has been arrested, the information will show up on the system when the biometrics are taken, as long as biometrics were taken at the time of arrest.
Officials from the Afghan Ministry of Interior also came to the training center to process the students. Each recruit receives blood tests, immunizations, an eye test and a physical.
The recruits are issued linens, and given rooms that are spread out around the base. The rooms are open bay facilities with bunk beds, but somewhat crowded.
The size of the classes has become an issue at the training center. With only five Afghan instructors, the student teacher ration is almost 50 to 1. The Afghan instructors live at the center, which means the students are never alone.
Recruits at the PTC come from Kandahar and Zabul provinces, and sometimes, tribal clashes occur.
To help combat problem like this, the instructors, with help from the Marines, plan to establish strict guidelines. Ortiz said by establishing guidelines up front, it would empower the instructors, and hopefully, build their confidence.
“I remember in boot camp standing on the footprints and then turning to see the wall with all the articles they could charge me with,” said Ortiz. “They read me my rights as soon as I got there, and it scared us. I just thought to myself: my job is to listen and learn and that is what I am going to do.”
There is a close bond between the Afghan Police staff and the Marines at the training center.
Capt Abdul Wahab, the AUP training center commander, briefed the recruits when they arrived.Shortly after, he dismissed a student from training when the student said to him, “I didn’t like it that U.S. Forces are here.”
“There are only eight of us, so it’s nice to know that the Afghan police officers here have our backs,” said Ortiz.
Curriculum for the class comes from the Afghan Ministry of Interior.
“They give us the items that have to be covered during training; however, there is no set order in which the training must be accomplished,” said Ortiz.
Many of the recruits seemed young and impoverished, but excited to start training.
Upon completion of the course, police officers receive a certificate and return to their respective provinces to serve.
Sergeant Ortiz said that the tough part of all this is trying to determine friend from foe. “There is a possibility that some of these kids get out of here and just go back and use the tactics they have learned here against us.“
Another issue within the training center is logistics. The well on the base stopped working three days before the recruits arrived. It was still down when they showed up for in-processing.
“We need the well to be operational for training, but we don’t want to fix it for them. That is not why we are here. We are here to mentor. We want them to do it on their own,” said Ortiz. “It should be up and running within two days.”
There is also a language barrier. Three of the five Afghan instructors speak Dari, however most of the students here speak Pashto. That leaves only two Afghan instructors who can actually instruct without the assistance of a linguist.
“The ideal situation would be that all our instructors spoke both languages, but we just don’t have that,” said Ortiz.
As training gets started, the mentors are ready for their first full class, hoping their inputs do not fall on deaf ears.