KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (Oct. 22, 2011) -- The graduates walked proudly across the stage that morning, not yet knowing where they would work, but certainly knowing for whom.

Dressed not in caps and gowns, but berets and their military uniforms, these 1,400 Afghan soldiers from the 4th Basic Training Kandak at the Kabul Military Training Center had trained long and hard for this day.

For Afghan National Army Pvts. Mohammad Ghamy and Imran Hashmaei, Oct. 20 marked the culmination of an eight-week transition from civilian to soldier.

"There has been a big change. When we first came, we were civilians, so we didn't know anything. Now, after eight weeks we are in the frame of mind of the army," said Ghamy.

As a civilian in Kandahar province, Ghamy had seen the affects of the Taliban on his community.

"There were no jobs and I saw so much fighting going on in my district, so I wanted to come and join the Ministry of Defense -- come and serve my country," Ghamy said. "My family encouraged me to join the military, serve the country, get the enemies out of our country and help rebuild it."

Where Hashmaei lived in Kunduz province, the responsibility for security has transitioned largely into the hands of the Afghans. The sight of Afghan National Army soldiers in the local media encouraged his decision to serve Afghanistan.

"When I saw the Afghan National Army training on the TV, I really liked the uniform. I talked to my family and said I wanted to join the military. My family supported me and said I could join," Hashmaei said.

After signing up to join the ANA, Ghamy and Hashmaei made the journey to KMTC to join their peers from around the nation as they learned to be soldiers.

"When the soldiers come to KMTC, we tell them about their appearance and the way of living in the army. We tell them how they need to be disciplined and how they need to appear as long as they are going to be soldiers in the future," said ANA Lt. Col. Habib Rahman Wardak, KMTC's 4th Basic Training Kandak commander.

That new way of living only seemed to strengthen their desire to make it through training.

"I felt like my fellow countrymen were beside me," said Ghamy. "They all spoke Dari and Pashtu. I didn't feel nervous or scared."

Donning the uniform for the first time inspired the soldiers even more.
"When I wear my uniform, I don't feel different, but I have the passion to serve my country," said Hashmaei.

That courage and passion served these soldiers well as they tackled the challenges of basic training. These challenges are greater than for many of their counterparts around the world, as these soldiers must first learn to read and write.

"The majority of the United States Soldiers come in the military with a 12-year education, but the Afghan soldiers come in with zero education. By the time they leave basic training, they will have received up to 60 hours, which will train them to read at a third grade level, so they can read, write and basically understand more than they could when they got here," said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jaymon Bell, of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment.

Bell, of Lebanon, Tenn., advises the commander of the 1st Basic Training Kandak at KMTC.

"It helps them tremendously," Bell added, "when they can understand what's written on the signs here and what's written about Afghanistan and how Afghanistan is one nation."

This opportunity to read and write was the first for Ghamy.

"This is the first time I am getting literacy training," Ghamy said. "I was a desert boy, a country boy, and I'd never seen it until I came into the ANA."

He hopes the education he receives in the military will help give him the opportunity to offer the children he will one day have a better future.

"I did not have an education, so I joined the service as an enlisted soldier," he said. "If my children become educated, they will be doctors or engineers and be able to serve Afghanistan that way."

Following their initial reading and writing lessons, the soldiers were able to move on to the more tactical side of basic training. With the International Security Assistance Force servicemembers primarily filling an advisory role, ANA drill instructors, like 1st Sgt. Hammidullah Hamad, conducted their training.

"This training is very useful in the field after the recruits become part of the regular army," Hamad said. "When they graduate, these tactics are useful against the enemy."
And, his recruits seemed to be paying attention.

"We have learned everything they have taught us completely -- the basic fundamentals of marksmanship, assembling and reassembling weapons, the grenade range, a ten-kilometer ruck march and live shooting with the M16," Ghamy said.

Of course, each soldier finds some parts of basic training more interesting than others.

"The urban training, and the live fire were the most interesting for me," said Ghamy. "And, I will remember them forever."

As for Hashmaei, the novelty of the weapons range has yet to wear off.

"Everything I've learned here is interesting to me because I want to be a soldier, but the most interesting part was shooting the M240B automatic rifle and the M249 squad automatic weapon," Hashmaei said. "When I got here I had not shot a weapon. The first time I got a weapon, I became more encouraged and I get braver every day."

Upon their graduation, the soldiers were told where they will serve and employ their new skills. Ghamy will serve with the Capital Division in Kabul, where he will be able to use the urban training that so intrigued him. Hashmaei will move on to become an infantry soldier with the ANA's 201st Corps in Nangarhar province.

"I am really proud of them," said Wardak. "On the first day when they came here, they were villagers who didn't know how to read, how to write or how to shoot the weapons. Since they've been at basic training, there have been a lot of changes in their lives."
The soldiers also appreciate these changes in themselves.

"I am much different," said Ghamy. "I have been through two months of training, and I have learned a lot. I can use this training to save my life and save my country."

With that salvation, these Afghan soldiers who have trained well to fight the enemy today, hope to see a lasting peace in Afghanistan's future.

"The people are tired of war and I don't want war anymore either, so I will serve my country to solve that problem," Hashmaei said. "There will be no more fighting in my country, and I will do my best to make sure of that."