By Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 7, 2008 - Mentoring the Afghan National Army's print plant staff here is a great mission, a Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Afghan National Army communications mentor said, but he may have worked himself out of a job. Air Force Maj. Kaster, deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., said the Afghans running the plant are nearly able to operate independently.
"They have made tremendous gains in a few short years," Kaster said. "They run all of the operations. My help is mostly on the logistical side, but even then, I just give suggestions; they find the answers that work for them."
In an average week, the plant produces 15,000 newspapers, 2,500 magazines, 50,000 forms, 10,000 targets, 790 books and 400 certificates. The Afghan Army uses the products for training, recruitment and logistical support, such as in-processing new soldiers and tracking equipment or supplies. The plant also provides operational support with vehicle passes and identification cards.
"It's hard to compare operations at the plant two years ago to operations today. They recently started tracking metrics, which is a huge accomplishment in itself," Kaster said. "I would roughly estimate that their production capacity has increased fivefold."
Kaster said these numbers are half the true capacity of the plant.
"It's more of a demand issue," Kaster said. "They can print about twice as much as they are asked to do. They have some room to grow."
Afghan National Army Col. Abdul Hadi, director of the print plant, explained the plant's history.
"Before we received our new machines in 2005, we did a lot of the work by hand," Hadi said. "Our machines were very old. The new machines have helped us double our output at a better quality."
The old machines were only capable of printing only one or two colors; the new ones can print up to six colors on one product. The plant also received machines capable of post-production actions such as folding, binding and stapling.
Hadi said the products help train and educate the Afghan National Army, but also help communicate important information to the people of Afghanistan.
"Because we can make notebooks and training material for the ANA, we help make a better force," Hadi said. "Because we can print a newspaper and magazine to show the good things the [Afghan soldiers] do, we can show the people of Afghanistan the many capabilities of their army."
Kaster said Hadi and Col. Said Farooq, director of maintenance, have adopted some of the planning and tracking tools he uses back home, and in turn, have improved the way they do business.
"For example, their weekly staff meetings now include solid metrics that enable them to track past and present use and predict future use," Kaster said. "Basically, they've gone from reactive to proactive."
Farooq explained how the plant's products strengthen the relationship between the people of Afghanistan and the ANA. With the capability of the print plant growing, so does the ANA's ability to train, recruit and inform the people of Afghanistan on the great things the Army is accomplishing, he said.
"Students at the university read the stories about the accomplishments of the ANA and want to join; then the force becomes stronger," Farooq said. "We are building a bridge between the ANA and the people."
Most American servicemembers take printing for granted. If they need a form or a publication, they download it or grab it from a shelf, or if they need a notebook, they get it from supply, Kaster said.
"None of that exists in Afghanistan," Kaster said. "Every form, document, book, poster, manual, magazine and newspaper needs to be printed by the ANA itself. This central facility adds tremendously to both the quality and efficiency of this process."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio serves in the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs Office.)