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Recruiting, Retention School Aids Afghan Army

Jun 29, 2007
BY Mike A. Glasch

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, June 29, 2007) - Pawdzh Garranday! In Pashto, one of the two main dialects spoken in Afghanistan, Army Strong may not have the same ring to it as it does in English. But it does have the same goal - to recruit.

For the past four years the Retention and Recruiting School at here has been helping the Afghanistan National Army build its recruiting command.

Working in teams of two, NCOs from the RRS - armed with lesson plans and doctrine manuals - have been deploying to help set up the Afghan National Army Recruiting Command, open 35 National Army Volunteer Centers, open a $12 million Military Entrance Processing Station and train Afghan soldiers how to better recruit.

"Our main method of training was hands-on and mentorship," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Saltor, an instructor with the RRS who spent one year in Afghanistan. "We would go to recruiting events with them and give assistance during the event. Then we would provide after-action reviews to provide them with lessons learned from the events."

Their work has seen dividends. During the past year, recruiters for the Afghan army have increased the number of potential recruits they talk to from 700 a month to 2,000 a month.

The commandant of the RRS, Col. James Comish, said that shows the commitment of the Afghan army leadership to develop a professional fighting force.

"We've found that the Afghan military are very receptive. They like to learn, and they apply what they learn; it's not forgotten," he said. "They take very seriously our recommendations and they try to meet them right to the expectations, but tailor them to their circumstance."

Col. Comish and Sgt. 1st Class Saltor agree there were a number of obstacles along the way. One was the way recruiters find prospects. In the United States, a majority of the leads recruiters receive are Web-based.

That infrastructure does not exist in most parts of Afghanistan, meaning recruiters have to rely on face-to-face prospecting.

"Here we approach the youth one-on-one, then we try to bring their parents into the conversation," explained Col. Comish. "In Afghanistan, that approach has to be different. Recruiters have to work with the community leaders, who then identify potential prospects, at which time they can then talk to them."

"Without this support, the recruiting process was very difficult," Sgt. 1st Class Saltor said.

Some of the other major obstacles to recruiting that Sgt. 1st Class Saltor said the Afghans have had to overcome include the lack of public transportation to get recruits to the MEPS station, and the fact that the Taliban targets anyone in uniform.

Despite those challenges, Sgt. 1st Class Saltor said in the 12 months he was there, he saw the Afghans adapt and make the recruiting program their own.

"The biggest change was their ability to work independent from us. They would still ask questions, but they made decisions on their own and fixed problems with little to no interaction on our part," he said.

Monday, the Chief of the General Staff of the Afghanistan National Army, Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, visited the RRS and thanked Sgt. 1st Class Saltor and Col. Comish for their efforts.

"All your hard work and your hard efforts continue even today," he told them. "The training you provided continues to help our army grow."

With the recruiting program able to stand on its own, the next goal is to work on the retention program within the Afghan army.

"They have a program, but it's in its infancy," Col. Comish said. "With a retention program you need to have a professional NCO corps. Their NCO corps is small. It is something they will have to build with an NCOES (Noncommissioned Officer Education System) process, an education process, to professionalize their NCO corps."

Col. Comish is confident that as they build the Afghan retention program the goal of increasing its army from its current strength of 53,000 soldiers to 70,000 soldiers will be reached in the next few years.

"They're doing better every day; it's a real success story," he said.

(Mike A. Glasch writes for the Fort Jackson "Leader.")

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