PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Nov. 6, 2013) -- Soldiers with the Afghan National Army's 203rd Corps, Signal Khandak, competed in the first-ever Signal Olympics, Oct. 27-30, at Forward Operating Base Thunder, Afghanistan.

"They were off to the races," said Staff Sgt. Randall E. Youngs Jr., an information technology non-commissioned officer with 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). "You could see the eagerness in their eyes as they executed their tasks with efficiency and speed."

First Lt. Jack Stefchek, a signal officer with the 4th BCT, served as facilitator of the event. He is also an adviser to the 203rd Corps, Signal Khandak.

"The intent of this event is to improve upon the 'three Ps' of the Signal Khandak, which are planning, proficiency and pride," said Stefchek. "The end state of this event is they are going to get better at doing what they need to do to support the (203rd) Corps, independent of myself and advisers."

The events consisted of setting up and operating a Very-Small-Aperture Terminal, an OE-254 VHF antenna, and the disassembly and assembly of an M16 rifle.

"A very-small-aperture terminal is small, portable satellite," Youngs explained. "They can be an invaluable tool for battlefield operations, allowing voice, video and data to be transmitted without having an accessible communications network."

Satellite communication is an important tool during combat operations however; radio communication is still a standard for operational communication, which is where the OE-254 comes in to play.

"An OE-254 is a VHF antenna," Stefchek clarified. "It extends your range for communication up to 50 clicks (kilometers)."

Just as communication is important with combat operations, weapons knowledge is as well.

"Just like in the United States Army, you're a Soldier first and should know your weapon inside and out," said Youngs. "They exceeded my expectations as we observed them disassemble their rifles, then put them back together."

The Afghan commander was impressed with the performance of his soldiers.

"The competition went pretty well," said Lt. Col. Ali Hassan. "Hopefully we can continue this training. We have had great experiences with our advisers over the past few years, we have learned a lot, so we will have the capability to train our soldiers by ourselves [when the advisers are gone]."

"They are improving daily," Stefchek said. "I've seen the pride of the unit increase dramatically just by working as a team. Their proficiency has also grown,"

Development, both as individuals and as a group, was the essence of implementing a competition. As an added incentive, the winning team also received a banner to display in their headquarters.

"Being able to contribute to their development was a great opportunity for me," said Youngs. "Seeing how well they executed during this competition and the motivation they showed, gives me high hopes the future of this Khandak."