U.S., Afghan Soldiers bond through training
September 5, 2012
By VINCE LITTLE
FORT BENNING, Ga. (Aug. 29, 2012) -- As the U.S. eyes a 2014 withdrawal date from Afghanistan, a big push is under way to prepare Afghan forces to assume the nation's lead security role. Fort Benning is playing a key part in that.
Afghan and American Soldiers are not only fighting alongside each other, they're also attending the same schools and courses together at installations across the United States, which is strengthening the strategic partnership, Maneuver Center of Excellence officials said. Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the MCoE and Fort Benning commanding general, hosted a dinner Aug. 21 at Riverside for Afghan students from the Maneuver-Senior Leader Course, Armor and Infantry basic officer leader courses, Maneuver Captains Career Course and the Henry Caro Noncommissioned Officer Academy.
"We have to all work together, understand each other's perspectives and how we are preparing our armed forces for the fight today and fights of the future," the general said. "(It's important) to see how each other develops doctrine, the common understanding of how we fight together as a team and use that as a foundation for training and leader development."
Collaboration with international partners and allies remains a critical part of the Army mission, McMaster said. Organizing forces with particular combat capabilities is vital in combined-arms operations.
Capt. Ahmad Zia Karimi, who attended the dinner, is about two weeks into his stint at MCCC, where he's learning how to prepare operations orders prior to taking command of a company. He's among only a handful of Afghan officers who will come through the course this year.
"This is a very, very good opportunity for me," he said. "It should be taken seriously. It helps with our transition process to make sure Afghanistan has professionals in every branch and organization in the country. It will help our officers and country to improve the security situation.
"It's a good opportunity for me to explain my culture and religion in a better way. I want to give the right idea about Afghanistan. The relationship between us is not only in the government. … We want to have a long relationship with Soldiers in the United States and learn from them."
His sponsor and course partner, Capt. Colin Peeler, returned in December from an Afghanistan deployment with 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Knox, Ky. The unit primarily conducted operations in Khost province.
"I was surprised to learn he's from the same villages and towns I was working in," he said of Karimi. "It's nice being able to talk about the same roads we drove and the same village elders we met with. Plus, we both miss some of the same Afghan food."
Peeler said the coursework is important, but those personal relationships will have a more lasting effect on the U.S.-Afghanistan alliance moving forward. The two sides always engaged in combined patrols during the deployment.
"We knew them personally and built good, strong bonds," he said. "They were our brothers, just as much as the U.S. Soldiers were."
Capt. Bart Kennedy, set to graduate Wednesday from the MCCC, attended the Riverside function and also has recent Afghanistan experience.
He came back to Fort Bragg, N.C., in February from a four-month deployment with the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade. In theater, the counterparts assessed common mission areas and tried helping one another through some training interaction.
"It goes both ways. There's cultural training they can provide to your Soldiers," Kennedy said. "My takeaway from the dinner was that the Afghans are building their whole professional development by sending soldiers here to the various courses. … On deployments, you leave partners behind when other units come in to replace you. Continuing the personal relationship with partners helps to establish the enduring commitment."
The U.S.-Afghanistan dynamic is likely to change in the next two years, Karimi said. Economic and political support will remain, but militarily, the country's population will fall under Afghan security and control. The captain said he's hopeful the U.S. can ultimately do for his country what it did for South Korea.
"Hopefully, Afghanistan comes out of this crisis with the same solution in the next 20 or 30 years," he said. "It was a great opportunity to have dinner here with such a busy person. It's another way of showing their friendship and trust of Afghanistan. This is the general's optimism and his view for the successful future we want to have."
McMaster said working with the Army's international partners is among his top priorities.
"When we are at war, we have to establish control over populations and territory, and then as an Army, engage in a broad range of activities to consolidate security gains and be able to achieve sustainable political outcomes consistent with our vital interest, worthy of the sacrifices our Soldiers have made," he said.
"All of the experiences you have (as international partners) help us mature our understanding and help us prepare our forces in those critical areas -- doctrine, organization, training, leader development and our technological capabilities and how to integrate them into our force."