Embedded Training Teams Making History in Afghanistan
By Capt. Mirtha Villarreal, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Mar. 21, 2005 For the first time in the history of the Afghanistan National Army, an embedded training team will work with its unit from the first day of training. ANA soldiers are trained in kandaks, battalion-sized elements of 800 soldiers, then sent on missions throughout Afghanistan. The ETT, made up of coalition soldiers, mentors and trains the kandak in actual military operations.
A new recruit at the Afghan National Armys Training Center tries on a pair of boots for the first time. This new member of Afghanistans army is part of the 35th Kandak (Battalion) that recently began training at the Kabul Military Training Center. It is the first kandak to go through basic training accompanied by its coalition embedded training team, which previously joined a kandak at graduation. Photo by Capt. Mirtha Villarreal, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Until now, the members of an ETT met their kandak for the first time on graduation day at the Kabul Military Training Center. They would then transport the kandak members to their assigned duty station.
ETTs now have the opportunity to build trust and bond with the ANA soldiers much earlier. More importantly, an ETT has a hand in its kandak's basic training, where in the past, training had to be conducted in the field after basic training.
"Being here from the beginning makes a difference in that we have the opportunity to help not only the new recruits but the leadership," said Maj. James A. Hanks. "We can ensure that the (noncommissioned officers and officers) understand their role and start the process of having them assume the responsibility and accountability of that role."
Soldiers processed into the 35th Kandak come from provinces across Afghanistan. They arrived early in March in civilian clothing. Some of the clothing was western, some was traditional; most wore a combination of both in a visual representation of the changes taking place in Afghanistan.
Ages are difficult to discern, as there is no birth registry in Afghanistan nor a national identification process. The ETT members look on in amazement as some new recruits appear to be in their early teens and others could be grandparents.
The motley crew quickly transforms into a military unit. Soldiers are issued uniforms, boots and a sleeping mat. The ANA training cadre instructs the soldiers in proper wear of their uniform. It's the first pair of boots for some soldiers, who must be taught how to tie shoelaces.
Marching commands, rank identification, and equipment familiarization take up much of the first week. The literacy rate among the new recruits is about 30 percent, which means instruction must be hands-on and repetitive, as study materials are limited and not particularly useful.
March 17 marked the end of the first week of training for Kandak 35. Already the number of soldiers qualifying on their weapons in the first week has increased from the past.
"If this is any indicator of future performance due to the ETT presence, the ETTs will help the ANA operate as a more cohesive and disciplined military organization," Hanks said.
(Army Capt. Mirtha Villarreal is assigned to the 136th Regional Training Institute)