By Jean Dubiel
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT POLK, La., Nov. 6, 2006 – The Joint Readiness Training Center here has conducted joint training missions with U.S. military branches and forces from Germany, Australia and other countries. Now JRTC has added the Afghan National Army to its list of warrior alumni.
From Oct. 25 through Nov. 4, nearly 50 soldiers from the Afghan National Army trained alongside troops from the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Throughout the event, American and Afghan companies were tasked with separate missions but needed to work as a team to accomplish overall goals.
Afghan soldier Nigmohammad Ahmadi, a squad leader, said he and his fellow troops will use lessons learned here to help train soldiers in Afghanistan. “We are glad to come here for the training and to learn things that we can take back to help (train) the national military,” Ahmadi said through an interpreter.
Most of the areas where the Afghan troops fight in their home country are mountainous and rocky with sparse trees, Ahmadi said. That made fighting in Fort Polk’s thick, wooded areas a challenging task for them.
“One of the most important things we have learned here is how to fight in heavily vegetated terrain. There are certain areas in Afghanistan that have a lot of forests, and when (the soldiers) go back they will teach other soldiers the techniques of fighting in this kind of environment,” Ahmadi said.
U.S. Army Capt. Chris DeMure, who participated in the training, said he saw the Afghan soldiers transform from apprehensive to confident allies during the course of the training.
“The ANA soldiers are doing pretty good. I think initially they were a little concerned because they told me they had never done (training) like this at all, with the laser (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System) equipment and the scenarios. But they have the hang of it now.”
DeMure said the spirit of cooperation between the Afghan and American troops grew stronger during each day of training. “You can see it in how the soldiers interact — joking around, comparing (equipment). ” These guys are going to go back to Afghanistan and tell other soldiers about the training and the friendships they made here,” DeMure said. “This has been excellent training for us and, I think, for them as well.”
The JRTC isn’t the first exposure the Afghan soldiers had had to American training. Groups of American soldiers, called embedded training teams, have been assisting the Afghan army from the inside, acting as coaches and liaisons between the American and Afghan armies.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Clay Aldrich, an embedded training team NCO, explained that teams are assigned to Afghan army battalions and divided into two-soldier groups — a senior officer and senior NCO. “They are embedded with an ANA company to serve as advisors and mentors, and as a buffer between ANA and American units. This facilitates cooperation between the armies to meet common goals,” he said.
Aldrich said although the Afghan National Army is a new army, the Afghan people are not new to the concept of war, terrorism or the fight for freedom.
“There some misconceptions about the ANA. They are an intelligent force. What you have to understand is that a lot of them don’t have much (formal) education. You may come across a squad leader with a third grade education, but that’s because when he was in third grade, the Taliban came in and burned the school down, killing or running the teachers off. They (Taliban) want to do that to keep the people ignorant, because ignorant people are easier to manipulate and enslave,” Aldrich said. “That’s what these guys are standing up against. They want (their country) to be back the way it was before.”
Considering cultural, language and religious differences, establishing effective communication and cooperation between the two armies may seem, to some, to be a monumental task. Aldrich said the key is to build rapport that reaches beyond the mission.
“When you build a rapport, you can’t go in saying, “I’m the mighty American; do things my way.’ You have to sit down with them, get to know them as people and let them get to know you,” Aldrich said. “Once you build that rapport, then you (discuss) the mission. It’s a long process, but once you have that rapport, you have (mutual) trust. You become a family; you create a close bond.”
(Jean Dubiel works at Fort Polk, La.)