News: Engineering independence: Army mentors note Afghan progress
Story by Spc. J. Alex Klein
URUZGAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan engineer soldiers are growing more capable and independent in the Afghan National Army’s 205th Corps, according to their coalition partners.
The U.S. 1039th Engineer Company “Razorbacks,” 120th Engineer Battalion, has recently mentored and partnered with the route clearance company of the Afghan National Army’s 4th Brigade, 205th Corps, based in southern Afghanistan.
Route clearance units conduct regular patrol of roadways in search of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), currently the leading cause of Afghan and coalition casualties in Afghanistan.
The Razorbacks are preparing to validate the Afghan route clearance company as “independent,” a key milestone indicating an Afghan unit’s readiness to conduct independent operations with little or no coalition assistance.
Sgt. Stephen Matthew Grass, mechanic and recovery supervisor for the 1039th En. Co.’s ANA mentorship team, nicknamed the “A-Team,” said he is confident in the Afghans’ capabilities and noted particular progress in the area of vehicle maintenance.
“Before I got here they didn’t know too much about vehicle maintenance; they only had a three-day course on it,” Grass explained.
“Now they are a lot more knowledgeable and can pretty much handle things themselves,” he said.
Grass stated the ANA unit is ready to handle missions on its own.
“The guys might goof around on the compound, but out on route, they get down to business, and they’re actually pretty intelligent,” he said.
A large part of the success that the U.S. 1039th En. Company and the Afghan 4th Brigade, 205th Corps are experiencing is the bond that has developed between them.
Grass explained that at the beginning, partially due to the language barrier, things were quiet and tense, but now they’ve created a bond with each other, and things are operating more smoothly.
When tool shortages prevented his Afghan partners from properly working on their vehicles and slowed their operations, Grass saw the need and filled it by purchasing some of the tools they needed.
“I bought them tools out of my own pocket. [These tools] help make [the ANA soldiers’] jobs go faster and much easier than before,” said Grass.
“It helped us become a stronger team together, knowing that I can trust them and their abilities,” he added.
Grass stated that he was proud of the bond created with his Afghan partners, saying, “We’ve become almost like family...I feel good that I get to watch them improve. I think we all do, on both sides.”