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Marines train Afghan soldiers to be better warriors

US Marine Corps News

By Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, Regimental Combat Team 7

A platoon of Afghan National Army soldiers training with Marines at Forward Operating Base Geronimo Jan. 14 learned some of the most important skills they would ever be taught – how to save the life of an injured comrade.

“The first thing you have to do is stop the bleeding,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew J. Jenkins, a hospital corpsman with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, who taught the soldiers battlefield first aid. “The second is to keep them breathing. These are the two biggest reasons people die in war.”

The soldiers then gathered into teams of two to learn and practice how to properly secure a tourniquet and how to best carry a wounded soldier to safety under fire.

The first aid training that day was just one part of a new 28-day training cycle developed by Marines of 1/3 to mentor and develop the Afghan battalion here, called a kandak, into a more effective and self-sufficient fighting force.

Each month, units within the kandak will rotate to Geronimo to receive training on various skills such as combat marksmanship, first aid, defeating improvised explosive devices, rules of engagement and the law of war, detainee handling, tactical communications, combat patrolling and vehicle mounted operations.

There is also specialized and one-on-one mentoring for the kandak’s small unit leaders and officers to guide them in their roles within their units.

The training evolution, designed to both refresh infantry skills and teach new ones, is significant for the kandak as the soldiers prepare to shift their primary mission from a counter-narcotics unit to a regular infantry battalion to bolster Afghan national security forces in Nawa.

“Our whole battalion knows how important it is for the ANA to succeed in their professional development,” said Capt. Andrew G. Gourgoumis, Headquarters and Service Company commander, 1/3, who until recently oversaw most of the ANA mentoring. “We deemed it so important we are dedicating Marines full-time solely to training these soldiers.”

“We can see they’ve had some type of training before,” said Gunnery Sgt. Phillip Veracruz, who left 1/3’s police mentoring team to become the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge for the newly-formed ANA mentoring team. “The goal of our training is to give each soldier basic knowledge to be successful.”

Training ANA soldiers on a daily basis can be difficult and frustrating because of the barriers of language and culture, said Veracruz, a 34-year-old San Antonio native.

“You have to realize these guys are not Marines,” said Veracruz, a former Marine Corps drill instructor who applies teaching skills he learned on the drill field toward training the ANA.

One of the most effective strategies for teaching the ANA soldiers is for Marines to first have their linguists go through the training and learn those skills so they can be better teachers during the training sessions.

“Everything we do is with the ‘EDIP’ process – explain, demonstrate, imitate, practice – that method really helps break through the language barrier,” said Gourgoumis, a 30-year-old Boston native. “We teach our interpreters the classes first. From things like assembly and disassembly of an M-16, to weapons handling, to first aid, and so on. When they know it, then they’re not just translating – they are effectively communicating. When ANA soldiers don’t get something right, a linguist can see that and explain to them on his own how to fix something.”

For soldiers waiting to undergo the training evolution, they will continue to conduct partnered combat patrols with Marines at their respective bases throughout Nawa and learn through experience until they are called to rotate to Geronimo for their training.

Gourgoumis said that almost all Marine patrols within 1/3 are partnered with ANA soldiers and that he soon expects to see them leading more during the patrols in which they participate. Marines also directly mentor the kandak’s staff officers in their responsible areas such as administration, intelligence, operations, logistics and communication.

There is no end date yet established for the program, said Gourgoumis, and he expects the soldiers to continue to reach training milestones well beyond the end of 1/3’s tour in Afghanistan as the next Marine battalion comes to serve in Nawa this summer.

“The kandak’s staff is very eager to get their soldiers more training,” said Gourgoumis. “They will absolutely be much stronger and more effective soldiers by the time their training is complete.”

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