KABUL, Afghanistan -- The professionalism, discipline and orderly function of a military organization falls a great deal on the responsible shoulders of its senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs), the backbone of the workforce.

The Afghan National Army (ANA), which has been highly focused on strengthening its NCO corps for the past two years, graduated a class of senior NCOs, or as the ANA terms them, bridmals, at Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 14.

The 22-week, 26-seat Sergeants Major Course at KMTC finished its third iteration since its inception in 2009, evolving its students from an already veteran set of bridmals into sergeants major, the top-level enlisted position in the ANA.

Eight months prior to the beginning of the NATO and U.S. drawdown, scheduled for July 2011, courses at the Bridmals Military Academy and Sergeants Major Academy are already - and have been - Afghan led.

"At this point, we're really just advising and working "shoulder to shoulder," said U.S. Command Sgt. Maj. Russell McCray, the Sergeants Major Academy commandant.

The event was hosted by Afghanistan's Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA) Roshon Safi and Nato Training Mission-Afghanistan Command Sgt. Major Ralph R. Beam. In attendance at the graduation were Afghan KMTC Commander Brig. Gen. Amin Ullah Patyanai, and the commander of ANA Training and Education Command (ANATEC) Afghan Col. Mohammad Amin-Wahidi.

"The people of Afghanistan need first of all security," Safi said, addressing the graduating class. "This security can be seen in your faces. The Afghan Army may not be standing at 100 percent, but we have promised to serve our people and protect their rights."

Two weeks earlier, Safi told a new group of first sergeants that regardless of tribe or regional differences, the ANA is there to serve the people, and the people's needs come first. The students of the Sergeants Major Course were in attendance for that address.

The current rank structure for ANA enlisted soldiers is dependent on successful completion of these courses. Soldiers are chosen for the academy from the field for intangible traits such as valor, experience and leadership as opposed to strict dates and time in service.

Each level of distinction between Bridmals - sergeant, first sergeant and sergeant major - awards the ANA soldiers with a wider scope of responsibility, with the sergeants major having the most authority and responsibility. Sergeants major ensure their brigades and kandaks (battalions) are in orderly shape and ready to engage any task by directing the efforts of the first sergeants and sergeants below them, communicating their commanders' intents by serving as the link between the officer corps and enlisted soldiers.

Safi gave the graduating sergeants major one more lesson before they were awarded their certificates: "When taking care of your soldiers take these three things - 90 percent of problems are solved by listening; whatever it is you expect of your soldiers, you must also do yourself; and keep pushing yourselves to a higher level."

As each new sergeant major received their certificate, they emphatically addressed Patyanai, KMTC commander, and the rest of the assembled cadre, and then their classmates before returning to their seats.

Just as the graduating sergeants major had attended and celebrated the graduation of the first sergeants two weeks ago, so were the first sergeants at this ceremony, congratulating them with garlands of flowers to be worn around the neck - and the occasional handful of glitter thrown over the new graduate.

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