Written by Capt. Nicholas Drake
Forward Operating Base Shinwar, Afghanistan – The noncommissioned officer corps is the backbone of the United States Army and critical to the combat effectiveness of its units. By contrast, the Afghan National Army’s NCO Corps is still in its early stages of development into a trusted force in the eyes of the ANA leadership.
The 2nd Infantry Kandak of 4th Brigade, 201st Corps is one of the newest Kandaks in the Afghan National Army. While the Kandak has a number of experienced leaders in senior leadership positions, the vast majority of the unit is made up of newly trained and inexperienced soldiers.The task of training and rapidly preparing the kandak for independent operations falls to Archangel Security Force Advise and Assist Team from 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).
“We tried to help them develop their own techniques to deal with tactical problems in order to create sustainable solutions,” said Sgt. Mark Moors, a trainer with Archangel SFAAT, from Burlington, WI.
The team began their mission by trying to identify training that would increase the capacity of the Kandak to train itself internally. With the help of the Kandak Command Sgt. Maj Mustafa, Team Archangel’s advisors developed a plan for an academy, the first of its kind in the 201st Corps.
The intent of the academy is to develop a cadre of trained NCOs who can go back to their line companies and train individual soldiers and junior NCOs, thereby allowing the ANA to maintain proficiency in small unit tactics and individual soldier skills independent of U.S. advisors.
While discussing the importance of NCO development and the future of the ANA, the 4th Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Mohammad Asef, said,”our Army is brand new and needs education and training. If we train and educate the noncommissioned officers to become professionals then it will enable success for the Afghan Army now and in the future.”
Team Archangel recognized this need for development and worked with a dozen junior NCOs from the Kandak in order to catalyze the growth of ANA NCO capability.
In a three week program of instruction, NCOs from the advisor team gave classes and led practical exercises to build critical individual and leadership skills. These skills ranged from individual marksmanship and medical skills to proper execution of traffic control points, ambushes and cordon / search operations.
“Their ability to shoot, move and communicate grew quickly, greatly increasing their overall combat effectiveness,” said Moors.
The training culminated in a situational training exercise on Forward Operating Base Shinwar that validated the ability of the ANA NCOs to apply the knowledge they had received through the course of the academy.
One of the primary trainers for the Afghan NCOs, Sgt. 1st Class Craig Harman of Fremont, Ohio, saw a marked improvement during the three weeks of training. “They came into the training not really knowing how to operate or lead. Now they are equipped to help their platoon leadership make good decisions, apply common sense to issues and to be independent thinkers on the battlefield.”
Following the graduation ceremony, a grateful Salman stated, “these were important lessons because sometimes when we were out on mission we didn’t know our roles. The class made us better at our jobs and we will take these lessons to teach to other NCOs and Soldiers in our company.”
Advisors from Team Archangel plan to transition responsibility for NCO development and the NCO Academy to the Afghan NCOs in the near future.
It is NCOs like Salman, Mustafa and Mohammad Asef, who will continue the training of junior leaders and grow into their role as the backbone of the Afghan Army.