FORT POLK, La. ---- Soldiers from El Salvador spent eight weeks in the Joint Security Forces Assistant Course, administered by the 162nd Infantry Brigade and held at the Joint Readiness Training Center, in preparation for their deployment to Afghanistan.
The course model is progressive, starting with individual skills like medical knowledge and weapons, and moving on to Afghan culture and language, then wrapping up with tactical lane training.
The American/El Salvadoran relationship dates back to the 1980s. The U.S. provided the country with military aid to assist in suppressing an insurgency. In 1992, peace accords were signed and U.S. assistance shifted to rebuilding the small nation.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, El Salvador stood by the U.S. to become a part of Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This U.S. Southern Command Commander, United States Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, visited Fort Polk June 24 to observe the El Salvadorans training in the Joint Security Forces Assistant Course. He is the first combatant commander to visit Fort Polk in a decade.
Kelly already had a relationship with the El Salvadoran troops dating back to 2003 when he was a commander in Iraq. In fact, two of the El Salvadoran soldiers in the course served with him in Iraq. Kelly recalled their warrior spirit and sense of duty.
"The fight in Afghanistan isn't an American fight; it's a fight for the Afghani people and it's a global fight … what's so remarkable about small countries like El Salvador is they have nothing really to fear from terrorism. They are good, decent people who stepped forward to be in a fight with other good and decent people," said Kelly.
Training in a foreign land can present some challenges. West Louisiana weather is quite different from El Salvador. Climate can also prove to be a bitter antagonist during the winter months in Afghanistan, which the El Salvadoran soldiers will have to endure. Being physical fit and mentally tough are foundations the El Salvadoran soldiers already have and will allow for rapid acclimatization in extreme conditions, said Kelly.
Along with adjusting to the climate of Louisiana, the El Salvadoran soldiers interacted with roleplayers from Afghanistan as part of their training at Fort Polk. After training on Afghani culture, their knowledge was tested in a situational training exercise.
"The training has been comprehensive and complex, introducing us to the latest technology and equipment available. Standard operating procedure instruction on vehicles, weapons and radio communication will make us more successful at accomplishing our mission in Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. Jose Gonzalez, El Salvadoran troop commander.
Staff Sgt. Christian Nooney, urban operations instructor, said the techniques used during the exercise were different from what the El Salvadorans were used to.
"This has a little more structure and different tactics but the fundamentals are the same (as what U.S. Soldiers learn)."
It is important that the training is as close to what the soldiers will encounter in Afghanistan as possible.
"This is the dirtiest, toughest kind of war there is. Terrorists have the advantage to act whenever they want to … we always have to remain vigilant," said Kelly.
Training isn't the only thing the El Salvadoran soldiers will take with them. Sometimes something special transpires when you have two groups of people with a base of things in common, like the army.
"I am most grateful for the friendships we've developed with 162nd Infantry Brigade during this training," said Gonzalez.
These are the first foreign soldiers to go through the Joint Security Force Assistance Course and mobilize to Afghanistan immediately after.