FORWARD OPERATING BASE GERONIMO, Afghanistan --
The unmistakable sound of gunfire breaks the mid-morning calm. The Afghan instructor paces behind several Afghan National Army soldiers, who are lying in the prone position. The sun is rising to their backs, casting long shadows, stretching before the green targets in front of them.
He kneels down and positions the end of rifle squarely into the Afghan’s shoulder.
The Marines sit off to the side. The Afghans may be using a Marine range but the ANA clearly have everything under control.
The ANA soldiers trained with M16 assault rifles in three different positions – the standing, the kneeling and the prone, all part of the 30 day ANA academy course for new soldiers.
After attending basic training the Afghans are sent to their new units. This course helps the soldiers with additional training, before being put in their tolais. A tolai is an element in the ANA equivalent to a Marine Corps company.
“The range is important for the soldiers, so they can (train to) protect themselves and the locals,” said ANA Staff Sgt. Arwng Zib, a range instructor with 1st Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps. “It’s very good training.”
Zib became an instructor last year and enjoys helping the new Afghan soldiers become more proficient with their weapons.
“I like helping the soldiers because I know this will help save lives,” said Zib
Forty-six Afghan soldiers from different tolais in the kandak fired, while instructors like Zib watched and helped soldiers with positioning and aiming.
Zib even held one Afghan’s shoulder in the correct position while the soldier fired.
Afghan instructor’s planned and executed the range, with minimal Marine involvement.
“Anything that is basic infantry skills, they usually do it themselves,” said Staff Sgt. Alvaro Lainez, the operations chief with the Embedded Training Team, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “They create their own training and we only advise them.”
The ANA instructors use Marine instructors only when they had to cover any topics they aren’t qualified to teach.
“If they don’t have anyone who’s considered an expert, then we’ll teach the class, or we’ll bring someone in,” said Lainez, a native of Summerville, S.C.
The ANA instructors easily handled the range today while the Marines took a step back.
The Afghan’s kept their soldiers in neat columns while waiting for their turn to shoot, while other instructors helped the soldiers on the firing line.
“They used our range and we provided the targets,” said Lainez. “Other than that, they came up with the plan on their own. They just come and ask us if they want to use the range at this time.”
The independence of the academy shows a more self-sufficient kandak.
The kandak staff chooses the instructors based on the soldier’s skill set. All instructors are at least a sergeant, which means they have experience leading their own men.
“It’s important that we train our own soldiers,” said Zib. “We want to take control of our own country. This helps us do that.”
The academy implemented the range into their training plan and for more than six months conducted live-fire shoots almost entirely independently.
Zib switched back and forth from several different Afghan soldiers while instructing. He made minor adjustments, from spreading one Afghan’s stance wider to putting the shoulder of another in the correct spot.
The instructor’s responsibilities also include safety and maintenance.
“We make sure everything is done correctly, that no one makes a mistake that could hurt someone,” said Zib.
It’s also Zib’s job to fix jammed weapons and place up the new targets.
“(The instructors) do everything on the range,” said Lainez. “They have their own medic, in addition to the corpsman we bring, and really take control over the whole thing.”
With ANA instructors, like Zib, training new soldiers, and doing so independent of Marines, the Afghans are becoming more self-sufficient with each course.
“We are here to help our people,” said Zib with a smile. “I will continue training so that (the ANA) can continue helping.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is part of Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.