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Team Leader Course helps ANA fight illiteracy

 

Written by U.S. Army Sgt. Spencer Case
304th Public Affairs Detachment

Regional Command East - Combined Joint Task Force - 101Paktya Province, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army 2nd Lt. Mohibullah keeps a note scrawled in Pashto of “pretty good” handwriting tacked to his office wall. It reads: “Until the headmaster returns, I have complete responsibility.”

The soldier who wrote the note had, a few days earlier, been completely illiterate.

Mohibullah, the new commander of the Team Leader Course, who like many Afghans goes by only one name, keeps the note as a reminder of what can happen when uneducated soldiers are given an opportunity to learn.

The four-week Team Leader Course is unique among the three noncommissioned officer training courses at Forward Operating Base Thunder in Paktya Province under the auspices of the ANA’s 203rd Thunder Corps. Unlike the Battle Course, the Team Leader Course is not designed for ANA soldiers who have experience as NCOs, and unlike the 1U Course, it does not assume the students have had any prior education. 

Afghan National Army soldiers Mohammed Qasim and Seenatullah, both natives of Takhar Province, study during the literacy block of the Team Leader Course on Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya Province, Oct.  17th. The first week of the Team Leader Course is dedicated to literacy and basic education, a first opportunity for many ANA soldiers. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Spencer Case, 304th Public Affairs Detachment)

Afghan National Army soldiers Mohammed Qasim and Seenatullah, both natives of Takhar Province, study during the literacy block of the Team Leader Course on Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya Province, Oct. 17th. The first week of the Team Leader Course is dedicated to literacy and basic education, a first opportunity for many ANA soldiers. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Spencer Case, 304th Public Affairs Detachment)

Much like the Warrior Leader Course in the U.S. Army, the Team Leader Course is designed to prepare enlisted Afghan soldiers for their first taste of leadership. ANA officers choose 10 percent of their soldiers to attend the Team Leader Course at regional training centers like FOB Thunder. Upon graduating, the soldiers are eligible for promotion to sergeant and, eventually, higher noncommissioned officer ranks.

“We’re not just training [NCOs], we’re creating them from Afghan soldiers,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Gary E. Smith, a training officer with the Indiana National Guard’s Regional Corps Training Team 2, who oversees the training at FOB Thunder. “It’s very analogous to what we do in our Army: same type of discipline standards, attention to detail and basic squad-leading skills,” the Kendallville, IN, resident added.

The Team Leader Course retrains ANA soldiers on basic soldiering skills, such as weapons qualification, and introduces them to NCO skills like responding to an ambush, as well as conducting searches of houses and vehicles. The first week however, is dedicated to literacy.

The literacy block consists of 36 hours of classroom training taught by retired ANA officers rehired as civilian instructors. The block includes instruction on the alphabets and basics of both Pashto and Dari, as Afghanistan contains millions of speakers of both languages. The instructors also teach basic mathematics, including multiplication, in the literacy section.

The block is particularly significant to soldiers like Tajudin, son of Imamqul, a native of Takhar Province, who was forced to withdraw from school several years earlier due to economic problems.

An Afghan National Army soldier enrolled in the Team Leader Course on Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya Province, answers a mathematics problem Oct. 17th. The first week of the Team Leader Course is dedicated to literacy and basic education, a first opportunity for many ANA Soldiers. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Spencer Case,  304th Public Affairs Detachment)

An Afghan National Army soldier enrolled in the Team Leader Course on Forward Operating Base Thunder, Paktya Province, answers a mathematics problem Oct. 17th. The first week of the Team Leader Course is dedicated to literacy and basic education, a first opportunity for many ANA Soldiers. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Spencer Case, 304th Public Affairs Detachment)

“This course is very important for us; it teaches us how to read and write,” said Tajudin through an interpreter. Tajudin is one of more than 150 students in the current cycle of the Team Leader Course, which runs from October 16th to November 11th. “A man who can’t read or write can’t read signs to know where he is going; if it is the right way or the wrong way. He doesn’t know his name or his father’s name. Now, we can write our names and know what way is the right way, and what way is the wrong way.”

With UNICEF reporting a literacy rate in Afghanistan of about 30 percent, Tajudin is not alone. Many hard-working ANA soldiers are among the illiterate because they are often in the field and unable to take advantage of the literacy programs offered by their units. Others are more fortunate, so soon after their arrival, the students divide into three sections based on ability, Mohibullah said.

At the end of the first week, all students are tested with their section. Mohibullah said many of the students do not pass the test, but said they are all given passing grades for the literacy section nonetheless. He justifies this policy on the basis that in Afghan culture, brutal honesty so early on would discourage rather than help soldiers who have still not received enough education.

“One week is not enough,” he said.

Fortunately, the test is only a formality, and book learning continues informally throughout the duration of the course. Since the training day is only about six hours, many troops take the initiative to study, sometimes with the assistance of the instructors, Mohibullah said

“Our soldiers are good,” said Mohibullah, who recently transferred from the Kabul Military Training Center. “I visit them during the evening and see that they are reading and writing. I saw one soldier reading from a newspaper and another soldier writing down what was read. I did not see such a soldier at the KMTC.”

Mohibullah said Tajudin, whose regular unit is 6th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 203rd Thunder Corps, based out of Qaraba District, Ghazni Province, is among those who have shown great diligence in their studies.

“He was very excited to get the opportunity, so we will help him out,” Mohibullah said. “If he keeps up his good attitude we can help him.”


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