By Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 7, 2008 - Since March 2008, the Afghan National Army has recruited more than 9,000 soldiers. But retaining those troops to eventually reach the force's 80,000-soldier end strength goal remains a challenge. This week, the country's minister of defense signed a new regulation governing "recontracting" Afghan National Army soldiers and noncommissioned officers. The new regulation put into effect a three-year re-enlistment for soldiers and a five-year re-enlistment for NCOs, which officials hope will strengthen the ranks.
Re-enlistments are vital in building and maintaining a force of competent and capable soldiers and NCOs, said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Steve Theriot, Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan's advisor for Afghan National Army retention.
"The continuity that comes with the retention of the NCO corps is important in the development of a stronger Afghan army," Theriot said. "This will definitely make a difference in the long run."
The changes to the regulation started nearly a year ago when flaws in the current plan were identified. Theriot, a career counselor for the U.S. Army at the Recruiting and Retention School at Fort Jackson, S.C., was deployed to Afghanistan to identify shortcomings and develop something with long-lasting impact.
To start, Theriot formed questions for his Afghan counterpart, Col. Mohammed Amin, the Afghan National Army director of recontracting, based on each section in the proposed regulation.
"The regulation was written from an American perspective and had things in it that didn't apply to the Afghan army," Theriot said. "Once we got the answers from Colonel Amin, we repopulated the regulation with Afghan ideas."
The next step was to get feedback from Afghan soldiers regarding the changes. Theriot invited a working group of officers and NCOs that deal with the recontracting process to a three-day discussion forum. Through this dialogue, more changes were made to better serve the needs of the Afghan National Army.
"Everything was voted on by the working group," Theriot said. "It helped not only to give them the best product, suited to their army, but to give them ownership in the process and the resulting regulation."
The new regulation also extends the window for recontracting. Previously, the recontracting process wasn't started until a month before a soldier's separation date. Now, the regulation calls for recontracting NCOs to contact eligible soldiers and start counseling and paperwork 12 months before their separation date.
Theriot said that once the regulation was approved, he worked with Guy Gaswint, a U.S. government contracted mentor, to train three Afghan sergeants major as trainers for the new regulation.
On Aug. 3 and 4, the sergeants major, along with Amin, instructed a group of recontracting NCOs and officers from the Ministry of Defense on the new regulation. The instruction also served as a certification for the sergeants major and colonel as trainers.
Sgt. Maj. Mark Mayo, a U.S. Army Central Command career counselor, attended the instruction to help evaluate the new trainers and witness the event.
"These men are professionals. Their confidence showed they were properly prepared and had rehearsed," Mayo said. "Confidence comes from knowing the material. They know this material."
Having enlisted soldiers instructing officers is a new concept for the Afghan National Army, Mayo and Theriot explained. The U.S. NCOs agreed that this instruction being led by sergeants major is a way to strengthen the relationships between NCOs and officers in the ranks.
Afghan Maj. Gen. Abdullah, chief of personnel for the Ministry of Defense's general staff, echoed their thoughts.
"Our NCOs should show and prove that they have the ability to manage and train their soldiers and the officers should support them," Abdullah said at the closing of the training. "This shows that these NCOs know what they are supposed to do."
The certified sergeants major will accompany Amin and the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan mentors to different Afghan National Army corps headquarters to train recontracting NCOs on the new regulation. Their goal is to visit each corps twice a year to conduct initial and familiarization training, officials said.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan.)