Afghan National Military Academy Welcomes First CadetsBy Lt. Col. Susan H. Meisner, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2005 -- On a snowy day in February, Afghanistan's first class of cadets reported for duty at the new National Military Academy Afghanistan.
The academy is on the grounds of a former flight technology school in Kabul. Modeled after West Point, the academy is a four-year, degree-granting institution that will commission second lieutenants for the Afghan National Army.
Cadets will earn an engineering degree with an emphasis on civil, mechanical, systems or electrical engineering, and will incur a 25-year service commitment upon graduation.
Afghan Assistant Minister for Personnel and Education Homayun Fawzi welcomed the members of the first class, telling them to "be proud of their enlistment in this academy."
Planning for the academy began more than a year ago, when Army Maj. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, then chief of the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan, and senior Afghan Defense Ministry leaders decided to establish an academy that would be the "crown jewel" of Afghan education.
U.S. Army Col. Barney Forsythe, chief of a U.S. Military Academy study team, and Afghan Maj. Gen. Mohammad Juma Nassar, director of a Ministry of Defense General Staff working group, submitted their initial plan for the academy to the defense ministry and the chief of OMC-A in November 2003.
West Point deans and department heads then began the planning process, deploying to Afghanistan for several months at a time to write policy, develop admission standards and determine the curriculum. They completed all steps hand in hand with their Afghan counterparts, to ensure programs were adapted to meet Afghan standards and culture.
"Our environments are different. Planners considered all cultural aspects and did not impose anything on us," Academy Superintendent Maj. Gen. Mohammed Sharif said. "While the academy will be similar to West Point, it will not be the same."
The defense ministry identified 1,023 potential professors with the necessary advanced degrees. OMC-A academy team chief Col. James Wilhite and West Point faculty and OMC-A members Larry Butler and Cols. Ray Winkle and Gary Krahn winnowed the list, selecting 200 candidates with special criteria for teaching everything from world history to physics to chemistry to psychology. The team eventually hired 30 professors to form the academic faculty.
By the end of November, 353 cadet candidates had completed the competitive entrance exam. The defense ministry, in conjunction with OMC-A staff, then conducted personal interviews and selected the top 120 young men to join the first class.
Future classes will have 250 to 300 students each, and upperclassmen will take on leadership roles in guiding the underclassmen. Sharif said the academy "represents all the ethnicities of this country."
The curriculum focuses on engineering, because "our country is war struck and devastated," said Sharif. "We are in the process of rehabilitating it. We need more engineers because we need reconstruction."
Cadets, who are between the ages of 18 and 23, will earn $80 a month and will receive free books, supplies, housing and food in addition to their education.
After seven weeks of basic combat training, graduates will begin their academic studies. In addition to their engineering curriculum, they will study military leadership, ethics and psychology, among other topics. Sixteen officers and noncommissioned officers are staffing cadet basic training. Eight of them will remain on site during the academic year.
"Our objective is to make a very strong and reliable army for Afghanistan," said 1st Lt. Abdul Haq, 2nd Platoon leader and a military instructor at the academy. "It should be accepted by all people. I was waiting to see the wars ended and see people take part in educational programs.
"I am thankful for (the United States') part in helping," he added.
Afghan Sgt. 1st. Class Asadullah Nawabi, a platoon sergeant, echoed Haq's sentiments. "I would like to thank the U.S. military in helping us get things done," he said, adding that helooks forward to teaching the cadets.
Some cadets had spent a lifetime planning for this day. "Ever since I was a child, I wanted to join the army," said Abdul Saboor from Baghlan province. "I left Kabul University and changed my major to come here."
Top scorer on the entrance exam was Jamshiud Dehzad of Laghman province. Top graduate of Shaheed Mohammed Arif High School in Jalalabad, Dehzad said he was happy and proud to be there.
"We came to do our best to make our country successful," said cadet Abudul Ghafar, from Mazar-e-Sharif.
"It is my country," said Afghan Sgt. 1st. Class Ghazi Ahmad, a platoon sergeant from Paktia province, as if puzzled by the question about why he would serve at the academy. If he did not serve his country, then who would, he asked.
(Army Lt. Col. Susan H. Meisner is public affairs officer for the Office of Military Cooperation Afghanistan.)
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