News: Afghan soldiers develop leadership during NCO academy
Story by Cpl. Reece Lodder
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Afghanistan — Unsheltered from the downpour of an ashen morning sky, a group of Afghan National Army sergeants slogs through a series of conditioning exercises.
The early morning rain has soaked their uniforms but not their spirits. The soldiers breathe heavily as they labor through the workout, crunching, squatting and doing push-ups alongside their Marine instructors. Wet and haggard, they complete the day’s first training event.
Under the leadership of Marines and sailors with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment Embedded Training Team, ANA soldiers with 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, participated in the first ANA noncommissioned officer academy held in Garmsir district, here, Jan. 23- 26.
During their deployment in Garmsir, the ETT’s mission is training and mentoring the ANA. On the ground, ETT infantrymen patrol and conduct weapons ranges with their Afghan counterparts. Behind the scenes, the units’ command elements work together to track personnel, move battle positions and organize logistics re-supplies.
The ETT Marines designed the academy with a view to developing Afghan NCOs, soldiers who have earned the rank of sergeant, said Sgt. Joshua Watson, the ETT’s 27-year-old platoon sergeant and a machine gunner by trade.
He said the academy gave the Afghan NCOs an opportunity to further their leadership skills based Marine guidance on “how to set the standard.”
“We’re teaching them how to stand in front of adversity with fury instead of fear,” said Watson, a native of Johnstown, Pa. “While preparing them for the battlefield, we’re also grooming them to lead their soldiers in daily tasks … to make decisions and take responsibility for them just like Marine NCOs do.”
The ANA rank structure is similar to the Marine Corps’ in its distinction between officers and enlisted men. However, while Marine NCOs direct their junior men based on their experience and initiative, Afghan NCOs are less active in guiding the soldiers under them. Instead, the brunt of leadership often falls on the shoulders of their officers.
Watson said the ANA are ready to accept responsibility in Garmsir, but their NCOs need to allow their true abilities to shine through by learning to think “outside the box.”
“They have strong warrior traits but have been unable to make decisions without their officers,” Watson said. “We’re helping the NCOs learn they have the ability to make a strong, split-second leadership decision, whether it applies to a daily task or to a combat situation where nobody is comfortable with making the call.”
After preparing the ANA to lead physical training sessions for their soldiers, the Marine mentors taught them the importance of accounting for and properly packing their gear.
“It takes a very understanding person to transition from being a ground-and-pound grunt to a tactful, patient teacher,” Watson said. “We can’t just know our job; we have to be able to explain it in a way that surpasses cultural differences.”
Armed with a gear list, Cpl. Jason Misener stood behind a poncho liner covered with clothes, boots, food and a sleeping bag. He demonstrated how to properly pack a rucksack while stressing the importance of accounting for their soldiers’ gear.
Despite the language barrier, they listened diligently and asked Misener questions through an interpreter. Though this wasn’t how he envisioned his deployment to Afghanistan, Misener said he was glad to spend it mentoring the ANA.
“When they ask questions and apply the things we’ve taught them, I can see we’re making a difference here,” said Misener, a 21-year-old rifleman and a native of Hackettstown, N.J. “They’re eager to take in the knowledge we pass on to them because they see we’re willing to sit down together and teach them.”
The mentors transitioned to refresher training on weapons handling and employment. The Afghan NCOs progressed from the classroom to the firing range, first calibrating their weapons and then practicing combat marksmanship under the watchful eyes of their Marine mentors.
Watson placed great weight on weapons training but stressed that it was just another aspect of being a well-rounded leader.
“Being an NCO isn’t just about slinging lead downrange,” Watson said. “It’s about being a leader, a gentleman, who can be followed in both combat and garrison.”
The tangible skills bolstered the Afghan NCOs’ military proficiency, but several held their mentors’ professionalism as equally important.
“I’ve learned a lot from the Marines in the way they treat one another and carry themselves,” said ANA Sgt. Ali Agha, an infantryman with 2/1/215. “When I see the camaraderie between the Marines, how they exercise, train, live and eat together, I see the kind of teamwork we hope to carry on to our soldiers.”
As the course develops, it will spread to other positions across the district in the hopes of strengthening the Afghan NCO corps. Eventually, Watson said, it will be lead by Afghan NCOs.
“The Marines have helped us with every aspect of being a soldier,” said ANA Sgt. Rustum Ali, a supply clerk with 2/1/215. “I’m hopeful that I can share the knowledge I’ve gained from this course to influence the men under my charge.”
The ANA is still developing, but they’ve progressed steadily over their time spent training and fighting alongside Marines, said Gunnery Sgt. James Carter, the ETT’s senior enlisted advisor.
Carter, a native of Winfield, Ala., first served on an ETT with ANA soldiers in Kandahar province in 2001. Now serving on his fourth training team, Carter said he’s witnessed a “remarkable” progression in their proficiency, logistics and pay and personnel issues. Watson readily agreed with his evaluation.
“This is where progress is being made in turning Afghanistan over to its people,” Watson said. “It’s one thing to go to a foreign nation, pull a trigger and watch the enemy fall … it’s another to train the people’s military and leave for the better. The work we’re doing here is a footprint that’ll stay in the sands of Afghanistan for years to come.”
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.