Tennessee National Guard
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – “Yak Team Wahed.”
That saying had special meaning to us as our interpreter, Wahed, bridged the language gap and made it possible for NATO soldiers to communicate and work seamlessly with Afghan soldiers.
We seldom hear of the successful tandem efforts between the Afghan National Army and their coalition counterparts but that afternoon we had the opportunity to see it. That is exactly what this mismatched group was – one team united.
As we drove up to a portion of the base I’ve never been to, the tall barricades and iron gates blocked the view of where we would be spending the next few hours with the ANA.
The tall, slender Air Force tech sergeant turned to me and said, “We’re on red in this area, so you if you want to, you can go to red.” He said it so calm and cool as if he were giving me options for lunch, but what he meant was “you might want to lock and load your weapon in this area.”
Although the team of U.S. and European soldiers visits twice a week to train the ANA, staying vigilant is a must. I swiftly slapped my loaded magazine in the well as we walked through the iron gates into the Afghan compound on Kandahar.
We were a small medley of multinational forces, led by a local interpreter whose friendly and cheery demeanor made any nervous feeling I had dissipate quickly. I looked around, amazed at the flowers, palm trees and landscaping, my only experience of this country has been brown dirt and broken gravel.
We made our way further into the compound until we arrived at a mechanic style garage with a large white school bus sticking halfway out of it. One of the ANA soldiers sat parked in the driver’s seat and waved as we walked inside to visit for the day. On the other side of the open garage, a Humvee with a dead battery sat, and outside the garage, a large generator out of commission.
I watched out of the corner of my eye as the large group of ANA soldiers swiftly broke apart and traveled from one item to the other, deciding which puzzle to work on first. They were scurrying around with bright eyes, like children at the park who take the decision of which jungle gym to play on first very seriously.
Army Spc. Farlance Breece, a maintenance specialist, works with these soldiers twice a week and happily told of his temporary duty to train and work with the ANA. He spoke of his new comrades with warmth, as he talked about their curious nature and ingenuity.
The soldiers started teaching the ANA soldiers how to properly maintain and repair their vehicles and equipment just a few weeks before our visit, but it didn’t take long for them to catch on.
“Most of these guys have learned this stuff from their fathers so we just show them new ways to do some things and teach them more complicated things,” Breece said. “They are very smart, they catch on fast.
“Today we changed the oil in a Blue Jay bus and looked at an up armored Humvee. We tried to do battery repair but ran out of battery acid.”
The problem solving skills that Breece spoke about became visible as two ANA soldiers snuck off for a few minutes and reappeared with a large bucket of clear liquid.
“They found more battery acid,” Breece said with a chuckle, “I don’t know where they got it from but they found more and there they go,” he said, pointing to the pair hovering over the old battery, funneling acid to give it new life.
After the two maintenance items for the day were complete, the ANA decided to keep the momentum going and brought in the rest of their vehicles for oil changes.
“Look they're [pre-checking and servicing] the vehicles on their own now,” said Pfc. Jonathan Raines with a pleasant surprise.
Both Soldiers said working with the Afghan Army has been a positive experience for both forces.
“It’s one of the high points of my week,” Raines said. “I really enjoy working with them; they all have a sense of humor. Even if I don’t understand what they’re saying, it’s still entertaining.”