By Master Sgt. Gary L. Qualls, Jr.January 5, 2016
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- A contingent from the Kazakhstan armed forces recently visited United States Army Central and South Carolina to learn ways to build its military forces as it transitions from a conscript to an all-volunteer army.
The Kazakhstan contingent toured Fort Sumter National Monument, Fort Jackson, USARCENT, and Shaw Air Force Base to see how the Army and Air Force take care of and train Soldiers and Airmen as well as how the Armed Forces compete with corporate America to attract the "best of the best" to wear the uniform.
The Kazakhstani visit specifically entailed seeing how the American Civil War began, observing the basic training process, seeing how the Soldiers live in the barracks, watching them train on the ranges, and becoming familiar with resources such as Army Community Services, Army Emergency Relief, Master Resiliency Training, Suicide Prevention, the Chaplaincy Directorate, and the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program.
Gen. Maj. Mukhamedzhan Talasov, deputy chairman of the of the general staff and the Kazakhstani contingent, said when the group was at Fort Sumter, they were impressed with how then Maj. Robert Anderson and his men fought valiantly to the very last moment until having to succumb to the much larger Confederate forces. Talasov described Anderson as, "A role model of a warrior."
"From this experience I understood where the strong spirit of the American Army is coming from," he said.
The members of the Kazakhstan contingent were especially impressed with the ACS program, particularly the support that agency gives families while Soldiers are deployed.
"The main thing is that every time a Soldier is deployed he is given the opportunity to perform his mission without having to think about problems at home, so that he is 100 percent focused on his mission," Talasov said.
Chaplains, who escorted the contingent throughout its visit, explained to the group most Soldiers did not have families 25 years ago. Now, in USARCENT, for example, 51 percent of enlisted Soldiers and 73 percent of officers are married.
Another highlight of the trip noted by the Kazakhstanis is the great respect they observed from the civilian population toward the military.
The group, whose country celebrated 25 years of independence Dec. 16, was also impressed with the quality and level of infrastructure and facilities they saw at the various locations along their weeklong tour.
"Everything was in very logical order," Talasov noted.
In conferring with USARCENT Commanding General Lt. Gen. Michael X. Garrett and Command Sgt. Maj. Ronnie R. Kelley, the critical importance of the noncommissioned officer corps was conveyed.
Most challenges the Army faces can be attributed to leadership, Garrett noted, pointing to the all-important link in the chain of command -- the first noncommissioned officer in that command structure.
"When people are asked what they are most impressed with about the Army or USARCENT, it has never been our generals," Garrett said. "It has never been the brilliant plans our colonels come up with. I think they are mildly impressed with our equipment, but they question the cost of it. The one thing that cannot be duplicated is the amount of trust we have in our noncommissioned officers," he said.
"Our great NCO corps is definitely empowered by great officers," Kelley added. "There's an NCO who can make decisions at the most basic level. They can see indicators, for suicide, for example, or whatever. And they have a great support structure called the NCO Support Channel to back them up."
Talasov agreed on the importance of the NCO Corps, pointing out that Kazakhstan was the first Eastern Bloc country since the breakup of the former Soviet Union to implement the NCO Corps and raise its image within the armed forces.
The general expressed gratitude and admiration to Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev for his open-mindedness about looking for new ideas to better the nation. He also expressed gratitude to Garrett and Kelley for being "very open to us" in helping Kazakhstan armed forces find their way and add to their strengths, such as patriotism and the "fire of our warriors," for the future.
Leadership from Kazakhstan and USARCENT agreed raising and maintaining an all-volunteer army is "very difficult." Still, the U.S. Army has successfully done it since 1973 and Talasov expressed confidence the Kazakhstan army can do it as well.
"A successful transition (from a conscript to an all-volunteer force) did not happen overnight for the U.S. and it will probably not happen overnight for us," Talasov said. "That's why we're here ... because we know we have a lot to learn from you."