FORWARD OPERATING BASE AZIZULLAH, Afghanistan -- Sept. 18 marked the graduation of the second class of the 4th Kandak, 3rd Brigade, 205th Afghan National Army Corps' Noncommissioned Officers Academy. As graduates proudly held their certificates overhead and dedicated their achievements to building a better and more secure nation, Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery of 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, looked on, knowing they had made a difference by sharing with their Afghan counterparts the tools needed to be effective soldiers and leaders.

Early on in its deployment, HHB recognized that 4th Kandak had highly motivated and well-trained soldiers. To make it even better, Headquarters Battery developed an NCO academy to continue educating Afghan soldiers.

"The current success of the United States Army is because of its Noncommissioned Officer Corps," said 1st Sgt. Gregory Caywood, HHB first sergeant. "Hands down, we have the best Army in the world because we train our junior leaders to make decisions, analyze problems and solve them with minimal guidance from senior NCOs and officers.

"Our goal with our Afghan NCO Academy is to train their junior leaders in decision making and leadership principles, so the Afghan NCO can serve his Army and nation in the same way that the U.S. NCO currently serves his Army and nation."

When creating the idea for a Noncommissioned Officer Academy for junior NCOs, Headquarters Battery realized it needed to focus on one particular topic: the company-grade planning and decision-making process called the "troop leading procedures." One major obstacle to this goal, however, was an inconsistent literacy rate. Although it is an Afghan National Army requirement to have some basic literacy skills to become an NCO, the level of education varies greatly, due to 30 years of conflict in the war-torn country.

"We recognized that Afghans are a very visual people. To teach them effectively, we needed to teach them in a way that spoke to them, not the way we are used to teaching U.S. Soldiers," said Sgt. 1st Class Wardell McGhee. "We realized that many Afghan soldiers were very interested in map reading, so thinking about this when we were building the classes gave us the perfect idea."

HHB leadership tailored the instruction around the troop leading procedures in planning for a short tactical mission as the course's capstone exercise. By teaching junior NCOs how to read a map, they were able to graphically depict mission building and using a terrain model, or "sand table" to orally brief their mock mission to fellow students.

"I can now use what I learned here and brief my soldiers before each mission. When my soldiers know what is going on, they perform better," said Sgt. Ashuqullah Logari, Distinguished Honor Graduate from the first NCO Academy Class.

One ingenious idea to help students remember what they had learned was to create a "smart card" that followed the lessons taught over the two-week course.

"U.S. Soldiers constantly rely on their own smart cards, so creating one for the ANA makes sense," said Sgt. Erik Marconi. "If all the course fundamentals are on one document that can easily fit in your pocket, you're more likely to reference it and more likely to use it."

So far, McGhee, primary instructor for both classes of the Afghan NCO Academy, is the spirit behind the training. He knows that his instruction not only provides the tools to develop effective junior leadership in a fledgling army, but that his students in the classroom today may be receiving enemy fire and faced with important decisions on the battlefield tomorrow. The best way to continue the lessons learned in the classroom is to encourage effective partnership immediately following graduation.

"The Afghan National Army Basic Sergeant's Leadership Course at FOB Azizullah prepares junior leaders to lead ANA soldiers and to foster a professional working relationship between (International Security Assistance Force), U.S. and ANA forces," McGhee said.

"By teaching, coaching and mentoring these junior ANA leaders in accordance with Afghan and U.S. military doctrine on basic leadership tasks and drills, (our) forces will improve their working relationships and better understand what it takes to work together for a common goal," he added.

When Americans think about the war in Afghanistan, armed conflict is often the first image that comes to mind. However, a vital part of the coalition forces' mission is to support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces. Without placing the development of our Afghan counterparts first and foremost, the American military cannot hope for a long-term and sustainable peace for Afghanistan.

Soldiers of Headquarters Battery, 4-25th FA, understand the importance of training future Afghan National Army leaders, and by using effective teaching methods, they have ensured that the army's Noncommissioned Officer Corps has all the tools to develop into a highly successful security force for the benefit of the Afghan people.

At the conclusion of the graduation ceremony, Caywood expressed his thoughts to his fellow NCOs.

"These Soldiers should be proud of what they accomplished in two weeks. To make you realize that what your battery implemented can shape the senior leaders of the Afghan (National) Army tomorrow, truly makes this mission worth it."