LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 13, 2014) -- It may be small, but a 60mm mortar round has a blast radius of over 20 meters and can be fired at enemies three and a half kilometers away. The M224 60mm mortar system has become a staple of American light infantry operations, and now it's becoming one for the Afghan National Army.
Members of the 4th Brigade, 201st Afghan National Army Corps, finished more than a month of training on the 60mm mortar weapon system at Forward Operating Base Gamberi with instructors from 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Task Force Patriot, with a cumulative live-fire exercise, Wednesday.
"They're all very bright. They're all very motivated. The class overall, I think it went very well," said Staff Sgt. David Flores, mortar lead instructor, 2nd Battalion.
Afghan soldiers spent that cold January morning practicing setting up their equipment and tearing it down again, building muscle memory. They practiced proper methods for handling the mortar tube and for dropping the rounds inside. They practiced everything the instructors had shown them over the course of the last month.
"Everything was awesome. The instructors were hard working and had good efficiency. They brought a lot of positive changes to our team and in our soldiers. Now we can do better things in our combat operations," said Masood, a mortarman with 4th Brigade, 201st Afghan National Army Corps.
Emphasis on safety was a key point during the live fire. In addition to practicing everything else, the instructors from 2nd Battalion also went over multiple misfire drills with each student.
Safety around the tube was also a main point of what Flores calls his "practical mortar knowledge exam," a test he administered to the class toward the end of the training.
"It consisted of general knowledge questions which we went over through the course of our four and a half week class," said Flores, a native of Agana Heights, Guam. "That included capabilities and characteristics. That included tactical employment, as well as misfire procedures."
The test also included practical exercises, like setting up or "mounting" the tube within a given time and accurately laying onto a target.
Of the 24 soldiers going through the training, ten got a perfect score on the practical mortar knowledge exam.
"Just over a third, nearly half of the students got a perfect score," said Flores. "It says that they have a firm demonstrated capability of learning."
Adding a fun twist to the final day's live-fire exercise, those ten soldiers were called on to compete against each other in teams to see who could mount their tube and lay onto the target down range the fastest. No one kept official scores or times, but it allowed the Afghan National Army to enjoy their final day of training with their 2nd Battalion mentors that much more.
After fun, Afghan mortarmen got down to business and commenced the live fire.
"It was good training. We learned a lot of things in this training," said Masood. "I know a lot of things now and I can perform a better public service for my country now."
The Afghan army is in the process of phasing out many of the Soviet-era weapons systems they've had for years in favor of a NATO standardized weapon set. The M224 is a part of that changeover, so receiving the necessary training to operate their new equipment is essential.
Another major benefit the students are getting from training with 2nd Battalion on the 60mm system is the skill set they learn are applicable to many other indirect fire systems as well.
"The general rule is 'a mortar's a mortar's a mortar'. I've been a [mortarman] for about ten years now and everything that I've learned as a [mortarman], I can apply to just about any mortar system in existence on this planet," said Flores. "I taught them tactics and techniques that they can use anywhere with any mortar system."
Now with Afghan presidential elections on the horizon, Flores is confident his students are more than capable to help secure their country during the elections. He also knows they will be able to show their Afghan National Army comrades the same skills they learned from him and his Soldiers.
He has a good reason to feel confident. Before coming out for the live fire, Flores received a report of his previous students having effects on an enemy in the first two shots during a recent engagement.
"I think they're ready to go out and succeed. I think they're ready to go out and train their own soldiers and become successful, and that was my primary goal," said Flores.
Of the five U.S. Soldiers who assisted with instructing the class, four of them are on their first deployment.
"I got to watch them grow as Soldiers. I'm very pleased with the progress that they've made as Soldiers," added Flores.
Even though the training focused on assisting the Afghan army, Flores believes the skills his men learned are just as important as the skills they taught their Afghan National Army counterparts.
"It benefited everyone, my Soldiers, the [Afghan National Army], everybody. My Soldiers that came here and helped me train this course, I think they're ready to go back with skills that will help them succeed in their future job opportunities," said Flores. "They've got the ability to interact with and mentor other people and you can take that as a building block to mentoring and teaching any skill, anywhere."