By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, April 20, 2011 – As he nears the end of his tour as deputy commanding general in charge of training the Afghan National Army for NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton has seen some big changes.
Patton updated online journalists participating in a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday on the growth the Afghan army has made during his tour.
“From a quantity perspective, the Afghan army is growing,” he said. “Between February and March, the army grew by 4,749. [It] currently sits at strength of 159,363 on the way towards the growth objective of this year of 171,600. Every indication is the Afghan army will make that goal and then some.”
Patton said part of that spike can be attributed to the national military academy’s graduating class. More than 700 new officers and more than 200 noncommissioned officers joined the Afghan army in March. The Afghan army also has kept on track with retention goals, he added, maintaining a 69 percent retention rate for the past year, meeting the goal of 60 to 70 percent.
Recruiting has fared even better, Patton said. Some 6,800 people joined the army in March, meeting the monthly recruiting limit, even though some potential recruits were turned away for medical and other problems. Over the solar year, which runs from March to March, the army recruited 104 percent of its goal, as 75,000 Afghans joined the army’s ranks. Recruiting efforts met their goal every month of the year, the general added.
Literacy training has paid off in recruiting, Patton said, noting that the command treats literacy both as a training requirement and as an incentive as many Afghans read little, if at all.
“We’re introducing a prevocational school literacy program, where before soldiers go to branch schools where they learn to be experts in supplies, signal or engineers, they attend pre-literacy there to raise [their reading levels],” he said. “So literacy is paying off as a recruiting incentive. … The soldiers I talk with are thrilled about their literacy opportunities.”
Patton said the focus of Afghan army training will continue to be modest growth in quantity while increasing the quality of soldier produced through more in-depth training. New vocational schools will help to expand soldier specialization training, including “train-the-instructor” training, he told the bloggers.
“We are bringing Afghan NCOs and officers into a specialty program where we certify them as instructors and then take them through a series of levels of certification by which they attain essentially the distinction as premier trainers in the army,” Patton said. “Today, we have about 136 who have been through our premier trainer program, equivalent to what we would know as our drill sergeant program in the United States Army.”
Patton said the results are visible, with Afghan instructors training their countrymen to be soldiers at training bases across Afghanistan.