By Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn D. Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 6, 2008 - Wherever U.S. forces are deployed across Afghanistan -- whether conducting combat operations alongside coalition forces in the east and south or security and stability operations in the west and north -- they do so from forward operating bases. Army Capt. Richard Roberts' team of senior noncommissioned officers from Camp Blackhorse is training and mentoring the Afghan National Army's 4th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, in the construction of Forward Operating Base Spike, located near the Naghlu Reservoir in lower Kapisa province.
"Our job is to train and advise the Afghan National Army in all aspects of FOB building," explained Roberts, who is the embedded training team officer in charge. "Our job is to train the leaders and NCOs so that they understand how to build and defend forward operating bases themselves."
Roberts and his team have lived on a combat outpost with a platoon of Afghan soldiers for almost two months. "The ETTs were the only U.S. presence on our makeshift compound," he said.
The team members are an eclectic mix of Army National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers. In civilian life, they are teachers, self-employed business owners and full-time students.
The 4th Kandak is a combat engineer unit with a weapons company, a headquarters company and a line company that is located at the site that's being built.
"Generally, classes in the morning are taught by the ETT, and classes in the afternoon are taught by the ANA," embedded training team member Army Master Sgt. Charles Durrant said. "We typically meet with the kandak commander after formation to discuss any issues or problems. Throughout the day, the trainers are meeting and working with their companies."
Afghan soldiers operate large excavators and bulldozers, flattening the terrain and making it suitable for future buildings and placing large sand-filled barriers. Operating on the top of a plateau, the equipment operators always are mindful that there is no room for error. Every time machinery moves, it is only several yards from a 1,000-foot drop.
"The ANA have faced all the challenges in stride," said Army Master Sgt. Kent McClure, the senior noncommissioned officer in charge of projects. "This FOB will help bring stability to the entire region. We've merely shown them the way; they are the ones doing the work."
Afghan soldiers also are building roads in the area and meeting with local elders and chiefs of police to discuss security and development projects. They also help coalition troops to locate and destroy established enemy fighting positions.
"Every mission that we go on is augmented by the ANA," Roberts said. "This allows the citizens of Afghanistan to see members of their army working professionally with coalition forces. It contributes to a sense of overwhelming pride in their government, and they see their army progressing and succeeding in stamping out the Taliban."
Their progress was evident July 26, when Afghan soldiers from 4th Kandak accompanied the combat engineer unit on a combat mission that destroyed five enemy fighting positions. ANA soldiers assisted in the preparation and detonation phases of the operation.
"Many of the soldiers in 4th Kandak learn combat skills fast," Durrant said. "Training them and letting them handle explosives and teaching them to respect it will help strengthen their ability and national perception."
Roberts praised the progress he's seen in the Afghan soldiers. "We are getting the ANA to a point where they can be self-sufficient," he said. "We pass all our experience and knowledge on to them. They do for themselves, and it is working."
(Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn D. Graham serves with the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs Office.)