2011/10/10 • Comments
CAMP MIKE SPANN, Afghanistan – A team of Canadian soldiers has nearly completed its first month in command of training operations at the Afghan National Army’s Regional Military Training Center at Camp Shaheen, near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan.
The team took formal command of training operations Sept. 9, and while Canada has been a staunch Coalition member of International Security Assistance Force, this is the first Canadian contingent to become a part of Regional Support Command – North.
“I see this as a huge opportunity both personally and professionally,” said Canadian Army Lt. Col. Derek Chenette, the RMTC-N commander for the Coalition. “Canada has been down in the south in Kandahar fighting against the insurgency since 2002. This is an opportunity for Canada and the Coalition to finish what it started.”
RMTC-N sends approximately 2,000 ANA soldiers through its courses approximately every eight weeks. The largest course is the regional basic warrior training course, with a capacity of 1,400 basic military trainees.
Additionally, RMTC-N houses a variety of basic and advanced training courses covering subjects from literacy to medicine, and noncommissioned officer and officer courses. While the majority of soldiers will remain in the north, graduates may be sent to fill needed positions anywhere in the country.
The RSC-N Canadian contingent is staffed by 39 soldiers who fill training and advisory roles as well as support functions for the group. The team attended a robust training program prior to their deployment to get them ready for the mission and is made up of mostly noncommissioned and commissioned officers by design.
“They bring the teams together and go through a full gamut of pre-deployment training,” Chenette said. “Due to the nature of the mission, it’s very rank-heavy. To provide that level of mentorship, there are lot of senior NCOs and officers that are involved in that training mission.”
Chenette added that the team also went through some training on cultural concerns and mentorship to prepare them to sit across the room and relate with the students. He also says that the multicultural citizenry of Canada, as well as the country’s rugged terrain, helped the team prepare.
“Building that rapport is probably the most important thing you can do when you first get on the ground,” he said. “I just think that it’s a natural fit and we can play an important part in helping Afghanistan get back on its feet and provide for its own security.”
Each soldier works advising a different team of ANA instructors across the course offerings of RMTC-N. Canadian Army Master Cpl. Jonathan Drew advises the instructors of four platoons of recruit. This is his second deployment to the country, the first was in Kandahar. He said he’s so far been impressed by the focus and initiative shown by the students.
“I don’t know if the mentors before us did a good job or if the recruits are just really switched on,” he said. “Probably a little bit of ‘A’ and a little bit of ‘B.’ They seem to be doing quite well. The motivation of the ANA soldiers is pretty good. I was at the range and the operations were running smooth. I was impressed. This group would be doing section attacks, so this other group was doing background activities. When the first group would finish, they would switch.”
Drew also said that he and his fellow soldiers’ efforts to learn some of the language and something about their students has gone a long way toward fostering good will among the ANA soldiers.
“They are happy we put in an effort to learn their language,” Drew said. “They really appreciate the effort and that bridges the gap a little between the two cultures. We get to know the guys. They’re just like us, they like to joke around, and they miss their families.”
In spite of the progress made during the past seven years, challenges remain for the ANA and Coalition forces. The rugged terrain of the country makes logistics difficult, and winter can completely cut off supply routes during harsh weather. Fortunately, some of the biggest challenges are also some of the most easily overcome, when one is aware of them.
“Our biggest challenge is trying not to make the mistake of seeing every problem through a Western lens,” Chenette said. “I hope we have some very good recommendations for the ANA, but at the end of the day this is their country and we should never forget that.”
The Canadian team is optimistic about the mission and looks forward to seeing the impact its efforts will have on the country. Chenette believes that although it has been rough getting the ANA to where it is, there is a bright future for Afghanistan.
“The warfighting mission was setting the conditions for this, for us to prepare the ANA to take over security for its own country,” he said. “Because at the end of the day that’s what’s in the best interest of the Afghan people and that’s what’s in the best interest of everybody.”