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DOD News Briefing with Sgt. Maj. Hill and Sgt. Maj. Roshan via Teleconference from Afghanistan

Presenters: U.S. Command Sergeant Major Marvin Hill, Senior Enlisted Leader of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and Afghan Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan Safi, Sergeant Major of the Afghan National Army
February 24, 2011

                 COL. DAVID LAPAN (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations):  Good morning to those here at the Pentagon, and good evening in Afghanistan. I'd like to welcome to the Pentagon Briefing Room for the first time U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major Marvin Hill, the senior enlisted leader of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan; as well as Sergeant Major of the Afghan National Army, Afghan Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan Safi.  As you would expect, both noncommissioned officers have extraordinary records of service.  Command Sergeant Major Hill has spent much of his 33 years of service in the Army in infantry units, during which he deployed multiple times to the Middle East, to include two deployments to Iraq with General Petraeus.  He assumed his duties in Afghanistan in September of last year after serving 21 months as the command senior enlisted leader of U.S. Central Command.

                 Following the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan joined the newly established Afghan National Army, serving in positions from squad leader to command sergeant major.  In June 2006, he was appointed as the first sergeant major of the Afghan National Army.  He has been instrumental in improving the professionalism of Afghan noncommissioned officers, particularly in terms of training and education.

                 The sergeants major join us today from their headquarters in Kabul.  They'll provide a brief operational update and then take your questions.

                 So with that, gentlemen, I will turn it over to you.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, good morning, and thank you for having us.

                 I'm excited to have the opportunity to speak with you all today. 

                 There's a phrase in Afghanistan called "shohna ba shohna."  And "shohna ba shohna" means “shoulder to shoulder.”  And today I'm proud to be sitting shoulder to shoulder with my Afghan counterpart, Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan Safi.  I've been working with Sergeant Major Roshan for nearly three years, both at U.S. Central Command and, now, at ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].  

                 I first met him while he was a student at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy.  And my next encounter with him was at a conference while I was serving as the command sergeant major of Multinational Force-Iraq, and then several times while I was serving as the command senior enlisted leader for United States Central Command.

                 I participated in his induction into the hall of honor of the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy and have conducted several battlefield circulations with him since my arrival here at ISAF.  He's a true professional, and he has my utmost confidence as the senior enlisted leader who will help lead the Afghan National Army into the future.

                 To give you a quick overview, the ANA is just one branch of the Afghan National Security Forces, which also include the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Air Force. 

                 The Afghan National Army, like the entire ANSF, has come a long way in just a short period of time.  Since 2009, the ANA has grown more than 56 percent, and over the past year, the ANA has grown by about 50,000 soldiers, and there are more than 23,000 soldiers currently in training.

                 The ANA is consistently meeting its recruiting goals.  The ANA not only met the growth objective for 2010, but they reached their target earlier than anticipated.

                 However, the bigger challenge is creating an entire structure of military education and development that will professionalize the entire force.  In 2009, 86 percent of the ANA new recruits were illiterate, and there was no mandatory literacy training.  Soldiers faced substandard pay, equipment and quality of life shortages, as well as an extremely high attrition rate.  Today, there is 100-percent mandatory literacy training, and wages and quality of life has vastly improved.  ANA soldiers are outfitted with Afghan-made uniform items and NATO weapons and high-quality equipment.  Eleven of the 12 branch schools, to include infantry, engineer and intelligence, are open, and in many cases Afghan soldiers are already taking the lead as instructors.

                 All of this has led to improved morale and high retention.  In fact, the attrition rate has already dropped 1.6 percent per month.  

                 Through all of these changes, Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan has been hard at work to expand and professionalize the ANA noncommissioned officer corps.  Under Sergeant Major Roshan's leadership, there's been a 76-percent increase in trained, noncommissioned officers.  ANA NCOs [noncommissioned officers] are already filling key positions such as instructors for professional courses, as well as setting the example for standards and discipline.

                 In 2009, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of the ANA Sergeants Major Academy.  And since then they have completed three six-month courses, graduating more than 60 students, including in the classes ANA, ANP and Afghan Border Police.

                 The fourth class is currently in session, with Sergeant Major Roshan's Afghan National Police counterpart attending the course today.  The school that trains Afghans' most senior noncommissioned officers is Afghan-resourced and Afghan-led.  The ANA grows professionally, and so does the relationship between ISAF and the ANA forces.  This relationship is based on the shared experiences and -- as ISAF and ANA forces live, train, plan and fight together:  true partnering.

                 As I travel around the country, I'm amazed by the success stories, such as local nationals who were denied economic development by insurgents in Zabul who now have direct road access to major economic and government hubs due to the Afghan-led route-clearance and route-security operations.  The elements of the 205th Corps executed this mission by providing security for the people of Zabul and reduced travel time by up to 14 hours while decreasing the locals' possibility of exposure to the IED [improvised explosive device].

                 But the best person to tell you about the successes of the Afghan National Army is my counterpart, my battle buddy, Sergeant Major of the Army Roshan Safi.

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Good morning!  (Inaudible) -- a soldier and it's a great day to be a soldier.  I have the pleasure of working side by side with the ISAF command sergeant major, with Sergeant Major Marvin Hill.  

                 Let me give you an overview of the Afghanistan National Army. The Afghanistan National Army is built on the pride of its people.  We are an army of all ethnicity groups – (inaudible), Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek.  The army is a well-respected organization because of its soldiers.  We take pride in being the protector of the people and the nation.  We are here to serve the people.

                 The army has gone from one battalion, to approximately 152,000 soldiers and growing.  We as a nation need a military force to better fight our country's enemies, to protect our nation and preserve our way of life.  An army cannot exist if it is not well organized and well trained.  The training that NATO force have given us made our leader and soldier disciplined, disciplined and professionals.  

                 We have received a lot of support from the United States and coalition force.  And as a result, we have begun to take the lead in a number of combat operation.  We are well on our way to taking full control and leading our all-combat operation by 2014.  By working shoulder to shoulder today, we will be stand on our own tomorrow.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Hooah.

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  The ANA is also a reflection of all Afghans, including women.  Just 10 years ago, women were not allowed to attend school.  In fact, women had very little rights at the time.  Now we see women attending school and they hold meaningful jobs in our community and position in our government.

                 The ANA has officially recognized women's service since 2009. And since 2009, we have developed an NCO education system for women. At this moment, the Afghanistan National Army training center is training our future female NCOs.  In late 2009, 20 women graduated from the first female officer candidates school.  And there are currently 20 women in school right now.  There are also women enrolled in the military medical school.    We have also had significant changes in the NCO course.  We now have courses from junior NCO course to the sergeant major academy. The Afghanistan National Army NCO education system is under one umbrella.

                 Looking ahead to the future, my priority, this is my focus area as sergeant major of the army.  We are conducting first central promotion board in March.  The purpose of the -- the purpose is to place the right person in the right position and provide a road map for career progression.  I'm working to improve retirement benefits to guarantee a better future for soldier and their families.  

                 I will continue to focus on NCO professional development to include a soldier and NCO competition.  (Inaudible) -- I am very proud to be part of the literacy program.  We are planning and we are executing this competition and also the seminar.  

                 As I work side by side with the chief of staff of the army, I hope our example leads the way for all officer and NCO relationship in the army.

                 Other -- that's your -- sergeant major.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  As Sergeant Major Roshan has said, the ANA has made a lot of progress since 2009.  However, there's a lot of challenges ahead, especially in the areas of equipment and international trainers.  The end state is that by 2014, the ANA is a self-sufficient professional force.  This process will take time, but ISAF is fully committed to an enduring relationship and partnership with the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Security Force as a whole.

                 And with that, we'll take your questions.  

                 COL. LAPAN:  Andrew, jump out there.

                 Q:  Sergeant Major Hill, this is Andrew Tilghman with Army Times. I'm curious as to whether you have actually, from your end, heard anything about the "don't ask, don't tell" training and how -- if so, how you think the carrying out that training in a combat environment might be unique and what kind of challenges it poses.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Yes, I have heard about the training that will be forthcoming to the battlefield.  We will take our directions from the Department of Defense, from the secretary of defense, the chairman, as well as the service chiefs of each service. Our plan is to take their direction, and we're going to execute that training right here on the battlefield.  Our goal is to not allow a unit to return to home station and have the unit responsible for that. While we own those soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, we're going to execute that training on the ground.  We hope that it will have little impact on their combat and security operations here.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Luis.

                 Q:  Sergeants Major, it's Luis Martinez with ABC News.  

                 Can I ask you about attrition in the Afghan force?  You spoke about how attrition is going down 1.6 percent per month, but that's overshadowed by the significantly higher numbers of soldiers and police who are leaving the force.  How are you combating that escape of soldiers?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  I didn't quite understand your question.  It was due to the sound.  Could you repeat it again, please? 

                 Q:  Thanks again, the question has to do with attrition. You said that you're cutting down on those numbers by 1.6 percent a month, but yet the numbers of those who are leaving the forces is significantly higher.  What are you doing to trying to overcome that -- those forces that are leaving?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Attrition has not been -- has not dropped by 1.6 percent, it has dropped to 1.6 percent a month.  And one of the things that we're doing to even combat that -- and that's a -- that's really a good number.  One of the things we're doing to combat that -- we have a good retention program, and what we've done, we've brought in trainers to help train the Afghan National Army on standing up a good retention program, as well as a good recruiting program.  We've stood up a recruiting command as well.  So between recruiting and retention, we're going to overcome even that 1.6 percent.

                 Q:  Sir, if I could follow up:  For comparison's sake, what was the per-month-percentage attrition rate so we can just compare?  And when did that drop-off begin?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, the attrition rate was obviously higher than 1.6 percent.  At some points it was high as 10 (percent) to 12 percent.  And one of the things that -- I mean, some of the things that we've done, we've -- one, we've increased the pay.  They have a better pay program.  Other things that we've done, we've automated the pay system so our troops don't have to get paid, go on leave, take the -- take their pay to their families and try to come back.  And in some cases they didn't come back and we had soldiers AWOL [absence without leave] or drop from the rolls.  So, you know, through the automation of pay and increase of pay, that -- those are a couple of things that we've done to really drive down that attrition rate.

                 Q:  Mike Evans from The London Times here.  

                 Can I ask you both what is, do you think, the main motivation for the guys who are coming in to join the Afghan National Army?  Is it because they're getting good pay, getting trained and getting professionalized, or is it because they want to defeat the Taliban?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  When they are joining in Afghanistan National Army in the -- (inaudible) -- and up, the recruiting is going very well. And we are bringing the soldier because they are -- the Afghanistan National Army is one of the respected organization.  They are coming there.  They are joining to the Afghanistan National Army.  When we are bringing to justice to the soldier, there are always the six steps we are bringing one soldier.  And the first step, and we are giving the guy -- we are bringing the soldier.  We are testing the soldier and we are testing the soldier, and also we are looking to the soldier citizenship and we are also looking that your background check about the soldier.  They are things what we are doing.  And we have enough soldier and we have enough -- the recruiting is going very well.

                 Q:  Doesn't really answer the question.  Could, possibly, the other sergeant major give a reply, too?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, from my perspective and from the ISAF perspective, they see -- I mean, they see good leadership when they see the ANA forces.  They also see a pretty good mission.  I mean, really, when you talk about respect -- protecting your own people, what more noble calling could there be?  So I think, from my perspective, the example that the ANA forces are setting and the good leadership, and the outstanding mission of protecting your own people, is some of the things that's driving the young men and women from their homes into the formations of the Afghan National Army.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Raghubir.

                 Q:  This is Raghubir Goyal, from India Globe and Asia Today -- okay, thank you -- this is Raghubir Goyal, from India Globe and Asia Today.  My question is for both of you.  One, how much confidence you think the Afghan community now have, or had, in the -- in your mission there; and second, how much news Afghans are getting as far as events going on in the Middle East, all these waves of freedom and change.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, if I can under -- if I understand your question, it's about some of the other things that's going on in the Middle East.  We watch the news just like everyone else, and we stay attuned to some of the things that's going on and try to see, you know, if they're going to impact what we're doing here.  But our focus at ISAF, our focus at U.S. Forces-Afghanistan and the ANA focus is on the fight that's right here within the borders of Afghanistan.  We're concerned about the things that's happening around us, but we are more focused on the battle that we're fight right here.

                 COL. LAPAN:  I think the question is more directed at the Afghan people, and what kind of support you see from the Afghan people and whether the Afghan public is aware of the news from the Middle East.

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  The support from the United States, like you can -- you are seeing the Sergeant Major -- command -- Sergeant Major -- (inaudible) -- Sergeant Major Marvin Hill.  We are sitting -- we are working together side by side and we are working to the shoulder by shoulder.  The Afghanistan people, the public, they are -- they will never forget what the great United -- the coalition -- the United States and the coalition force did for the Afghanistan -- for the Afghanistan people.

                 Right now, the Afghanistan -- if you look to Afghanistan, we have great progress in Afghanistan in the good education.  We have the economy, we have good economy.  They are doing the education of the Afghanistan National Army, of the Afghanistan National Police.  That's the best thing is going.

                 If you look, the Afghanistan people are -- the bottom line is Afghanistan people are getting education.  Every day, they are getting to the -- they will be going to the www.google: Afghanistan.  How was the Afghanistan like 10 years ago?  Ten years ago, if you look to the Afghanistan, we did not have education, we did not have Afghanistan National Army like today we have that.

                 Thus, we will never for all of these great things, you know, for what is that the great America -- what the United States and the coalition force did for Afghanistan.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Cheryl.

                 Q:  Hi.  Cheryl Pellerin, American Forces Press Service.  Excuse me.  For Sergeant Major Roshan, could you say more about women in the army, how many women are training and how many women are actually in the army now?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  (Audio break) -- women in Afghanistan National Army, in 2009 we opened new period in the history of Afghanistan.  We start -- we recognize women to join in Afghanistan National Army, like the first we have the OCS, Officer Candidate School.  The first time there was the women, there were 29, 29 women, they joined to Afghanistan in the national army.  They were very proud of -- and they were based on the criteria.  The criteria was, they should be the high school graduated, and they should be also the guarantee letter from the father and the mother.  They can then join to the army.  

                 And right now when they graduating three, four months ago -- in country right now we have 20 women in Afghanistan National Army.

                 We have also women that are working admin kind of job.  We have in medical school, right, or like nurses -- we have to that one -- we have women in Afghanistan National Army.

                 Q:  May I have a follow -- and can you say some of the issues that you're dealing with, having women in the army, and how many more women you expect over the next several years to join?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Can you -- would you like to repeat the question again?  Okay.

                 Q:  What are some of the issues that women are having to overcome to join the army?  Are there issues, problems with women -- (off mic) --

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Mm-hmm, yeah.  

                 Q:  -- problems with women -- (off mic)?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  There's -- right now that there should -- there -- as major of the army, I didn't see any issue, because the women, they have the rights.  This is -- they have the same rights that male -- that the female -- the women, they have the same right, too -- the first time we do a talk on the television in couple weeks, you know -- that's one week there was, you know, women -- they were volunteering to join to the Afghanistan National Army, and we didn't see any issues.  

                 And before that, when -- first in Afghanistan National Army, you know, I have other logistical support commander.  I have women -- there was one on my -- I have -- one of my -- sergeant major in Afghanistan National Army.  In the future there should be that the -- you know, that that should be like the command position.  We can put that in the future; you know, that to ask your -- to answer your question, there's -- we do not have any issue, any concern that -- in the army.  

                 COL. LAPAN:  Andrew.

                 Q:  This is Andrew with Army Times again.  For Sergeant Major Safi, you said at the beginning that the army is made up of Pashtuns, Hazaris, Tajiks and Uzbeks.  I'd like to ask you:  About how many Pashtuns are in the Afghan army, and would you like to see more of them?  Is there an effort to reach out to the Pashtun community?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  We have two step in Afghanistan National Army. The first step's when the -- they are coming soldier in the recruiting command and we are working by ethnicity balance, like the ethnicity balance -- like the Pashtun, like if the Pashtun 46 percent -- now 46 persons, that should not be oversize.  But when we return to Afghanistan National Army, we -- as Afghanistan, we have just one tribe and one ethnicity, which is this patch.  When you ask me and my corps, sergeant major, what -- where are you come from?  Afghanistan.  And he would be telling this is my -- (inaudible) -- my tribe is the chief of staff of the army, and this should be one day be a crime if you want to say Pashtun, Tajik and Hazara.

                 Right now we are -- (inaudible) -- for -- the beginning.  That should be not oversized.  But everybody is -- if he's the Pashtun, he's from Afghanistan, and he's the Tajik, we are like brother, we are like this -- you know, we have the different patches, and we have the one flag.  The purpose is the same.  The patches is different.  We will never -- that will -- Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, no matter.

                 (Inaudible.)  You know, one of my -- in my unit, I have the soldier -- I don't know -- my -- the majority of my soldiers didn't know which ethnicity I am, because they speak Pashtu, Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara.

                 Q:  Could I ask him just how many?  I mean, he's seeking the ethnic balance, but how many Pashtuns are in the army currently?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  The Afghanistan National Army, the Pashtun -- we have -- the army right now, we have the percentages, we have the percentages like -- (inaudible) -- the Pashtun, 46 percent of the Pashtun -- we have the people.  There should be -- (inaudible) -- we are grouping by the ethnicity.  That was -- at that point, we are coming to the recruiting station -- when they are coming to the unit -- the unit, we are not talking to that one.

                 You know what, let me tell you this.  When we are attacking -- when we attack -- the bad guys are attacking, they are not going, hey, Pashtun, go on that side, I will not kill you; hey Tajik, go there -- we have the same enemy.  They are not telling to us, Pashtun, hey, I will be killing Hazara, I will be not -- you know, we are all together.

                 In Afghanistan, in like all of the force, they are working together -- coalition force, civilian community, and Afghanistan National Army, police, Afghanistan National Army and -- (inaudible) -- coalition forces, we are working like -- (inaudible).  There is no -- if anybody wants to beat Afghanistan, we will be beaten like that. There's -- no matter Pashtun, Hazara.  That was like expired medicine we were eating.  We will never eat that medicine again.

                 Q:  Okay.  (Off mic) -- expired medicine.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Luis.

                 Q:  If I could follow up on the -- if I could follow up on the question of the Pashtuns, I think -- I believe there was an effort to recruit Pashtuns from the south, from Helmand and Kandahar, because most of the Pashtuns are from the north that are currently in the ANA.

                 How is that recruiting going in Helmand and Kandahar?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Recruiting is going very well.  We have this operation, you know, in the south, right -- you know, there's one other example, like the Marja, we didn't have -- in the past, we had 45 recruiting stations, and we didn't have enough recruiting stations there.  When we recently -- the delegation that they weren't the people and they attack the people, right -- you know, we have also large number from the south, from Helmand, from the Kandahar, people -- they are enjoined to the people because they are looking to Afghanistan National Army every day.  They are watching and they are -- they are seeing Afghanistan National Army as a respected organization.  And they are proud to serve.  They are watching that if anything happen in Afghanistan.

                 The people of the civilian community -- any natural disaster happen, they are guarding Afghanistan National Army.  And they are coming if there is flood, earthquake, there are droughts, anything happen -- they are watching that one.  That is -- they are seeing Afghanistan National Army because they are thinking they're a real depender in Afghanistan.  And when they're seeing Afghanistan ANA soldier, they take a very relaxed breath and they are thinking, they're a real depender, they are here, you know.  Afghanistan National Army like -- we are from the Afghanistan people -- we are at the service of Afghanistan people.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Mike.

                 Q:  Mike Evans from The Times again.  Some time ago, I think it was maybe a couple years ago, you started introducing M-16s and taking away the Afghans' beloved AK-47s.

                 Can you tell me how far that has gone now and whether the Afghan soldiers are happy with M-16s and not too unhappy with not having their AK-47s?

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  AK-47 -- I was -- you know, at that time when I was the battalion -- the corps sergeant major, there was one -- the biggest -- (inaudible) -- you know.  When we had the AK-47, we were worried about the AK-47.  Right now when we got the new NATO weapon -- M-16, M-4 -- we -- just the enemies worry about that weapon.  We are not worried.  We are good to go, but the enemy is thinking about the NATO weapon.  That weapon -- when we got that, that was morale booster.

                 As you know, there are the three things, three "R," right? Soldier -- be a right soldier, right training -- great United States, they train my soldier -- we have good training and good NATO weapon like M-16, (inaudible) -- this weapon we have to that one, that was a very good morale booster for my soldiers.

                 Q:  Could I possibly ask your American colleague the same question, whether he thinks that's worked pretty well?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, the fielding of the NATO weapons is going extremely well.

                 One of our subordinate commands and headquarters, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, has the responsibility for the fielding of the NATO weapons and all of the equipment for the Afghan National Security Force and then particularly the Afghan National Army.

                 There are units that have the AK-47s that can't wait to get the M-16s or the M-4s.  So we think that that's something that they want. They have confidence in it.  And that's what it's all about, is having confidence in the equipment that you're operating and particularly the weapon that's in your hand.  They feel that this is a superior weapon.  They see U.S. and coalition soldiers armed with NATO weapons, and they want to be armed with them as well.  And we're working extremely hard to outfit the entire army with it.

                 COL. LAPAN:  Okay, we have time for two more.  Raghubir.  

                 Cheryl, over to you.

                 Q:  I would like to ask Sergeant Major Roshan if -- why you changed the name from small sergeant -- of your noncommissioned officers from small sergeant to battle buddies.

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Small sergeant to the bridmal [battle buddy] -- we changed the name of the noncommissioned officer to the small sergeant to the bridmal.  The small sergeant, that was maybe poor word. That was one of the former -- you know, that word was very poor word. They were calling "small sergeant."  And we put that word because -- (inaudible) -- with the noncommissioned officer, they brought -- they earned great respect because they -- when -- right -- you know, there was -- they are -- they were enforcing the standard and they were a primary -- you know, they were the primary training for the soldier.  And also they were the first lane of the leadership.

                 There would have been a different reason when we had heard the name.  We are not the source of it.  I'm sergeant major of the army.  I can stop airplane in the sky.  I'm not small sergeant.  I'm sergeant major of the army.

                 And that -- we are the noncommissioned officer.  We are the backbone of the army.  We are the bridge between the officer and the soldier.  That's every day; that was my hard work on my noncommissioned officer.  And they -- and end to that one -- this went all the way to the military service law -- and this is battle buddy, they are noncommissioned -- they are not small sergeant in the army. 

               SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Hooah.

               COL. LAPAN:  Okay, Raghubir.  

                 Q:  Thank you.  Raghubir Goyal again.  My question is now that, how much -- do you still have a security problem as far as protecting the people of Afghanistan as far as al Qaeda or Talibans are concerned in the country?

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, security is always a problem, whether it be here in Afghanistan or anywhere around the world.  Protecting people is our number-one concern.  Right now we have over 100,000 -- 110,000 more forces here in Afghanistan than we had at this time last year.  We have 70,000 more Afghan National Security Forces, and we have 40,000 more U.S. and coalition forces here.  And that's providing a better umbrella of security.

                 You know, just months ago the people in Marja could not -- I mean, they couldn't come out of their homes.  And today bazaars are open.  There's open shops.  There's open markets.  There are schools open.  There's a girls' school open that has 180 students in it, and that wasn't the case just months ago.  

                 So, you know, security is always a problem anywhere, right, but here we are combating that with the boots that we have on the ground and with a competent Afghan National Security Force.

                 SGT. MAJ. ROSHAN:  Our border security, when I'm sitting in the -- you know, that in the meeting with the chief of staff of the army, there are our corps commander -- I didn't see one of the corps commanders -- they are giving operational briefing, like I didn't see one route from Herat to Kabul, from Kabul to Mez [Mazar-e Sharif], and from Kabul to the Jalalabad.  Twenty-four plus seven -- all of the route is there -- they are open.  They are driving the people.

                 There is -- every day there is -- we will be having -- we will have the Afghanistan National Army and we will have professional police and the border police; they will be having control of the border.  And it should be the -- it should be getting better.

                 COL. LAPAN:  All right, gentlemen.  Thank you very much.  I'll send it back to you if you have any closing remarks you'd like to make.

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Well, I'd first like to say thanks for the opportunity for noncommissioned officers to tell the Afghan story. We're here. We're in full support of the Afghan National Security Forces.  Our role is to provide Afghan solutions to Afghan problems, and that's what we're standing here to do.

                 I want to give a shout-out to all of our U.S. and coalition forces.  I know the focus of this briefing was on the Afghan National Security Force and particularly the Afghan National Army, right?  But I couldn't be more proud of the sacrifices and the courage and the commitment that our service members are making on the battlefield every day.  They are true warriors.  They are true diplomats.  They are very versatile.  And they -- I couldn't be more proud of them. And thanks again for having me and my battle buddy, and just thanks for what you all do for us as well.

                 SGT. MAJ. RASHAN:  I want to say thank you for all of the soldiers that are -- that are training Afghanistan National Army and that are -- and their families back in the great United States.  They are coming -- they are sending their children, their boys, men and women they are sending to Afghanistan for the security of the people of Afghanistan.  They are sending all the way like 11,000, 12,000 men.  

                 We are the Afghanistan.  We will be -- never forget what they did for Afghanistan.  (Inaudible) -- Afghanistan, like -- we have great progress in -- here in Afghanistan. Just if you want to say, like, Google somebody Afghanistan, www.google what was Afghanistan 10 years ago -- in that town, we know. If you look into the reconstruction, you know, we can do it.  We didn't have 200 meter of paved road in Afghanistan.  Today, all of from Herat to Mez, from Mez to Badakhshan.  Today, all of the way -- we have the paved road.

                 And you saw there was an education system.  We didn't have that. There were no schools and there were no education for the students, and today we have the education, especially for the women in Afghanistan.  We have the education.  We have high school graduation; women, they are coming.  And even as I mentioned before, they are joining in Afghanistan National Army.

                 And we have like the justice system, law and regulation. We didn't have in the past one paper of law and regulation.  We have constitution in Afghanistan.  And we have all of this -- (inaudible) -- in Afghanistan.

                 Thank you all of the support of the great families that are sending their children to Afghanistan.  And Afghanistan was -- you know, Afghanistan was like one of the sick persons, that was the great United States and all of the -- and other coalition, they start medicine to the sick person.  That person -- sick person every day is getting better.  That sick person can walk.  And when they were walking, if the great United States is running, we all will be walking.  But, you know, that we in the -- in the future we will be running together.  If anything is happening around the world, Afghanistan, the great United States, we will be like today we are in the shoulders of the shoulder, in the future we will be shoulder by shoulder.  Hooah. 

                 SGT. MAJ. HILL:  Hooah.

                 COL. LAPAN:  All right.  Thank you, gentlemen.

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