Guard Enhanced Brigade Prepares for Afghan Duty
By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 7, 2003 More than 500 members of an Oklahoma Army National Guard infantry brigade are transferring the military training skills and cultural lessons they have been mastering this fall in Colorado to the southwest Asian country, where they will serve for most of the upcoming winter and spring.
Army Spc. Tom Bui improves his short-range marksmanship at Fort Carson, Colo., where members of the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade have been preparing this fall for six months of duty in Afghanistan. They will train soldiers in the Afghan National Army. Photo by Tom Gilbert, Tulsa World
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The citizen-soldiers and Marines attached to the 45th Enhanced Separate Brigade are moving out this month for Afghanistan to take charge of training the new Afghan National Army. It will become the next Task Force Phoenix.
The brigade, commanded by Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mancino, will assume the training mission from members of the active Army's 10th Mountain Division in December and will remain in Afghanistan until next June.
Army Guard soldiers, including members of the Special Forces, have been taking part in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and training Afghan national soldiers since President Bush ordered troops into that country following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This, however, will be the first time that an Army Guard enhanced separate brigades is taking charge of the mission to train Afghan soldiers to keep their own country safe from terrorists.
"When Headquarters, Department of the Army asked us to assist in this effort, we jumped at the opportunity," said Col. Roosevelt Barfield, chief of training for the Army National Guard in Arlington, Va. "The Afghan National Army is a major part of post-hostilities in Afghanistan and the cornerstone for winning the peace."
"Many of these Afghan troops are already combat veterans. Our job is to turn them into a professional army that is already engaged in combat operations," said Maj. Eric Bloom, a brigade spokesman.
"That includes teaching them what officers do and what noncommissioned officers do because the Afghan Army has not had an NCO corps in the past," Bloom added.
To that end, Army Guard senior sergeants, captains, majors and lieutenant colonels from 19 states have been at Fort Carson, Colo., since late September boning up on how to train their Afghan National Army counterparts.
The force includes citizen-soldiers from Army Guard regional training centers in Rhode Island and Texas. They will conduct nine-week basic training courses for about 4,000 Afghan nationals at the Kabul Military Training Center outside of the country's capital city.
They will also supervise programs for training new officers and noncommissioned officers and combat leaders at the center as well as courses in managing ranges and training areas, said Maj. Tom Hanley, of the Army Guard's training division.
About 50 members of the Vermont Guard's regional training center have been conducting that training for the 10th Mountain Division, Hanley explained. "After that training, they will be able to fight terrorists with U.S. Special Forces," he said.
Other guardsmen with the 45th Brigade will be embedded as trainers within two Afghan light infantry brigades and an armor and mechanized infantry brigade. These have already been organized at Pol-e-Charki and Kamari, bases that are also located in the vicinity of Kabul in the western part of the country, near the Pakistan border.
U.S. Marines will help train Afghan soldiers assigned to a quick-reaction force, Bloom said.
High-ranking Guard soldiers will also train members of the Afghan corps headquarters on how to lead those brigades, said Bloom, who explained that the Afghani corps headquarters is equivalent to an American division.
The intent, Bloom added, is to have the corps and brigade staffs trained in time for the national elections that the transitional government has scheduled for June 2004.
Lessons for the Afghani soldiers range from personal hygiene, including shaving and brushing teeth, to cleaning dining facilities to combat tactics, he explained
"Patience and understanding cultural differences is the key to this kind of training," Bloom observed. There is, for example, the matter of pay.
Most Afghan soldiers do not have bank accounts and direct deposit, he pointed out. They live in a country where the winters can be harsh and where the 27.8 million people have just 67,000 passenger cars and commercial vehicles.
That means that after receiving their monthly pay, the soldiers have to be given a few days to take the money to their families in villages throughout the country, Bloom said. And they have to be given a few days to get back to continue the training that is essential for keeping the soldiers' families safe.
(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau, Arlington, Va.)