By Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 2, 2009 - Three U.S. military police officers are tasked with mentoring Afghan National Police in an area larger than the state of Delaware -- a situation that calls for some creativity. "We were on a 'soft-knock' [operation] in Nishagam, and we noticed that it might be good to have a specially trained team," Army Sgt. Nathan Byrd, the team's leader, recalled.
The soldiers of the 527th Military Police Company decided to establish the first special weapons and tactics team comprising Afghan police in Regional Command East.
Modeling the program off the Army's own special response teams, of which Byrd was a former member, the three soldiers developed a comprehensive 15-day program on special tactics and training, aimed at turning an ordinary Afghan National Police officer into an expert tactical responder.
After gaining permission to run the program on Forward Operating Base Bostick, in Konar province, the team turned to the ANP station in the nearby town of Nari for their first recruits.
"We basically went to this one police station and said, give us your best, and we'll make them better," Army Spc. W. Eric Mraz, one of the team's members, said.
The ANP selected six officers for the program varying in age from 20 to 35. "Yes" and "thank you" were the only English words the recruits knew.
Moving past language barriers with the help of interpreters and hand gestures, the three MPs soon realized how serious the recruits were about training.
The recruits started every day with physical training so intense it left the instructors tired, Byrd said. After that, they began their lessons for the day, covering everything from escalation of force, room clearing, hostage-rescue procedures and hand-to-hand combat.
"We were hoping to get people who would just retain the knowledge," Mraz said. "And instead, we've gotten a group of men who not only retain the knowledge, but they ask questions, and they build on top of it, and they constantly want to learn more."
During the training, the MPs discovered the men they were instructing shared many of the same qualities as themselves.
"I don't know how these guys were picked," Mraz said. "I know we said we want the best of the best to be in this team, but it's like they picked six guys who had our personalities."
A seven-year veteran of the ANP said through an interpreter that he joined the program to better defend his country by learning antiterrorism techniques. "I like training for myself and for others' defense," he said.
If a success, the three MPs hope their ambitious idea will be implemented in stations across Afghanistan.
"Right now, this is just our trial period, our test baby basically," Mraz said. "Once we have fine-tuned all the training, that's when we hope to propose it to other MPs who are working in other [areas of operation].
The ANP officers have decided to call themselves the Special Tactics Team to differentiate themselves from other SWAT-style teams across the world.
"If I could turn on the TV in 10 years and hear something about the STT in Afghanistan, and know I had a part in that," Mraz said. "Well, that would be pretty cool."
(Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)