News: RCBS grand opening highlights Afghan National Army progress in Helmand Province
Story by Sgt. Bryan Peterson
CAMP SHORABAK, Afghanistan - Afghan National Army Maj. Gen. Sayeed Malook has several reasons to be proud of his troops.
Earlier in the year, U.S. and coalition forces transitioned to a support role throughout much of Afghanistan and handed over responsibility of security in Helmand and Nimroz provinces to Malook, the commanding general of the 215th Corps.
Malook and his soldiers accepted many of the new security responsibilities. The unit established additional bases, manned security checkpoints and conducted counterinsurgency operations to prevent insurgents from regaining a foothold in the district centers.
The soldiers were tested throughout much of the summer as insurgents attempted to reclaim the districts of Sangin and Kajaki; however, the ANA fought off their many attempts with minimal assistance from coalition forces. Their accomplishments were major milestones in the history of Afghanistan and represented the improved capabilities of the Afghan Army.
One reason the unit has been able to achieve a high level of success against insurgency is due to the standard of combat training the soldiers receive when they first enlist into the military.
As coalition forces have decreased their footprint in Helmand, the responsibility for combat training has been shouldered by the Afghans and they have recently created new curriculums and opened new schools to train entry-level soldiers.
Afghan National Army officials celebrated the opening of the Regional Corps Battle School’s Infantry Training and Combat Service Support Training Schools at Camp Shorabak, during a ceremony Sept. 26.
Earlier this year, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense effectively gave all six ANA Corps in Afghanistan command and control over all of its entry-level training requirements at each Corps’ Regional Military Training Center, now called RCBS. With the opening of the schools, the 215th Corps became the first regional headquarters command in Afghanistan to adopt a formalized combat training curriculum.
The two schools will be eight weeks each and will include a mandatory two-week literacy course. The Infantry Training School will include courses in weapons handling and tactical development, while the Combat Service Support Training School will include courses in combat medical training, motor transportation, logistics, maintenance repair and basic culinary courses.
These courses will be a requirement and soldiers will have to graduate them prior to receiving assignments in forward areas such as Kajaki or Sangin Districts.
Each school will also include advanced programs to allow soldiers to return for “train the trainer” courses. Train the trainer programs have been widely used in Afghanistan by Security Force Assistance personnel. The courses will teach critical skillsets to select ANA soldiers, who can then train others at their respective brigades.
Addressing the need for properly trained soldiers
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai signed a decree on Dec. 1, 2002, which created the Afghan National Army. Backed by U.S. efforts, the Kabul Military Training Center was built for all recruits to undergo basic training. Over time, the size of the military grew and regional bases, such as Shorabak, were built to support the training requirements.
After the bases were built, each training center began teaching the Basic Warriors Course, or recruit training. At the time, no follow-on training courses were available and the majority of the new soldiers were sent to combat areas without any specialized training. The ANA relied on soldiers with combat experience to teach the new soldiers.
As the ANA forces grew to sustainable numbers, Afghan leadership, earlier this year, began training soldiers in combat.
Royal Air Force Wing Commander James Peter Penelhum has been in Afghanistan since the battle school was formed and said without the development of the regional training centers, “untrained soldiers would be fighting the war.”
Penelhum said approximately 7,000 soldiers graduate recruit training each year and it would be impossible for one facility to handle all of the training. He said by establishing the training centers, the different regional commands have the organic capability to train recruits, which limits the need for recruits to be transported from Kabul to their respective units.
“The 215th Corps has come a long ways in its four years of existence,” said Penelhum, the officer in charge of the RCBS advisor team. “The ANA, much like the rest of the Afghan National Security Forces, were building infrastructure, increasing troop numbers, training soldiers and fighting a war all at the same time.”
Implementing a training curriculum
When Capt. Carlos Flores arrived in Afghanistan in April, he conducted an analysis of the existing training curriculum. Flores knew the Afghans needed to develop an initial training pipeline that would be sustainable while simultaneously fielding brigades’ requests to provide additional training to experienced soldiers.
Initially, a majority of soldiers who completed recruit training would be immediately sent to the brigades, but as time went on, that number dwindled and more soldiers received specialized training prior to joining combat units.
Flores knew there would be trials and errors along the way. For example, advisors had been reeducating soldiers returning from leave through Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSOI) training. Brigades would send kandaks, or battalions, to Shorabak for 18 days to refresh soldiers in basic skill sets such as marksmanship, medical training, radio communication and tactics.
During his analysis, Flores realized the process would take nearly four years to cycle every kandak through the course.
“We decided to create a cadre of instructors from soldiers who are already experienced in courses that RCBS would train for three weeks at a time,” said Flores, the operations officer for the RCBS advisor team. “They would be taught how to teach this information to their soldiers once they get back to their units. The idea is to have the soldiers conduct refresher training to their troops at the kandak levels at the discretion of the brigade commanders.”
Another big addition to the curriculum was literacy training. Over the past two years, literacy instructors have taught basic reading and writing to Afghan recruits during recruit training, but only in its simplest form. Now, the RCBS has implemented a two-week literacy course for all new soldiers, prior to beginning combat training.
Mohammad Sabir Safi, the chief literacy instructor on Camp Shorabak, said soldiers need to learn how to read and write as it pertains to their jobs.
“When I got here two years ago, most of the Afghan soldiers were illiterate,” said Safi. “Once we started the program, slowly, slowly, they came to know it’s very important in their daily lives. An Afghan soldier might have to order equipment or fix a vehicle and he will have to know how to read order forms or vehicle repair manuals.”
Safi said he has already seen the effects of the literacy training and the impact it has on the daily operations aboard Camp Shorabak.
One morning, Safi was driving his vehicle through the camp’s entry control point and a soldier manning the gate asked him for his vehicle registration card. The soldier read the registration papers and told Safi he couldn’t enter the camp because he needed to renew his paperwork. Although it was an inconvenience to Safi, he recognized it as a sign of success.
“It was funny, but I was pleased to know this soldier, who I taught, could tell me that,” said Safi. “We have seen a huge change in the soldiers and it makes us happy.”
Flores said an added benefit of teaching literacy courses is the ability for soldiers to increase their reading level for jobs that require such.
“The Afghans also see it as a life-changing event,” said Flores, who said retention will increase with high levels of literacy.
The way forward
The Regional Corps Battle School will continue to receive its training requirements from the Afghan National Army Training Command; however, the 215th Corps will control how the training requirements are implemented.
Penelhum said the training program will be more successful now because the Corps will supply instructors, weapons systems and vehicles for the courses. Penelhum said this shift in responsibility will make the Corps more invested in the training, which should improve results.
Afghan National Army Col. Shah Wali, the RCBS commanding officer, said he is already seeing major improvements in the training program.
Since the Corps was given control over the training program, Wali said major infrastructure improvements have been started. Construction crews have started to install electrical and plumbing lines as well as build new living quarters for students and permanent personnel.
Wali said he is also pleased his reporting command is next door, not hundreds of miles away.
“I’ve been here for three years, since RMTC opened,” said Wali. “We did some great things since this place opened but things are going to get better. Having [Afghan National Army Training Command] in Kabul was not ideal for us because of the distance. We would always have soldiers bring their equipment down here for training. We would send soldiers to the Corps when they were finished training. It just makes sense for us to use the Corps for our needs.”
Penelhum said he is optimistic about the future of the battle school, admitting the Infantry Training and Combat Service Support Training Schools will address what the ANA is in need of.
“What we have done is prioritized their immediate needs, but they still have a long way to go,” he said. “They’ve made a huge leap of faith by allowing the soldiers to go directly from basic training to follow-on training. The brigades may see a delay in the arrival of new soldiers, however, the soldiers will be combat trained when they arrive at the brigades. Hopefully come next fighting season, we will see the benefits of that delay.”
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