LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The M-224 60 mm mortar system, a staple of American light infantry operations, is fast becoming one for the Afghan National Army.

Soldiers of 10th Mountain Division (LI) wrapped up more than a month of training Afghan soldiers on the system with a live-fire exercise Jan. 8 at Forward Operating Base Gamberi.

Mortar instruction leaders from 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Patriot, said members of 4th Brigade, 201st Afghan National Army Corps, were very bright, motivated and able to perform well.

The Afghan army is in the process of phasing out many of the Soviet-era weapons systems they have had for years in favor of a NATO standardized weapon set. The M-224, which can fire the 60 mm round from as far away as three and a half kilometers, is a part of that changeover.

Moreover, the skill set the Afghans acquired will be applicable to many other indirect fire systems as well.

"The general rule is 'a mortar's a mortar's a mortar,'" said Staff Sgt. David Flores, mortar lead instructor with 2-30 Infantry.

"I've been a (mortarman) for about 10 years now," Flores said. "Everything that I've learned as a (mortarman), I can apply to just about any mortar system in existence on this planet. I taught them tactics and techniques that they can use anywhere with any mortar system."

During the live-fire culmination exercise, Afghan soldiers spent the cold morning hours setting up and tearing down to build good muscle memory. They practiced handling the mortar tube, dropping rounds inside and anything else U.S. instructors had presented over the last month.

"Everything was awesome," said Masood, a mortarman with 4th Brigade, 201st Afghan National Army Corps. "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."

An emphasis on safety was a key point during the live-fire portion of the training.

The M-224 round has a blast radius of more than 20 meters. Instructors from 2-30 Infantry went over multiple misfire drills with each student.

Safety around the tube also was 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," he said. "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 Afghan soldiers going through the training, 10 received a perfect score on the practical mortar knowledge exam.

"Just over a third -- nearly half of the students -- got a perfect score," Flores said. "It says that they have a firm demonstrated capability of learning."

Adding an enjoyable twist to the final day's live-fire exercise, the 10 soldiers competed against one another to see who could mount their tube and lay onto the target down range the fastest.

"We learned a lot of things in this training," Masood said. "I can perform a better public service for my country now."

With Afghan presidential elections now on the horizon, Flores is confident his students are more than capable of helping 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.
Flores has good reason to feel confident.

Before coming out for the live-fire, he received a report that former Afghan mortar students had impacted enemy combatants during a recent engagement on their first two volleys.

"I think they're ready to go out and train their own soldiers and become successful, and that was my primary goal," he said.

Of the five U.S. Soldiers who assisted with instructing the class, four of them are on their first deployment.

"I'm very pleased with the progress that they've made as Soldiers," Flores said.

Even though the training focused on assisting Afghan soldiers, 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," he said.

"I think (my Soldiers) are ready to go back with skills that will help them succeed in their future job opportunities," he added. "They have got the ability to interact with and mentor other people. (They) can take that as a building block, to mentoring and teaching any skill, anywhere."