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Progress continues on many fronts in western Afghanistan

October 5, 2011

By Jon Connor, DCOM-Regional Support/NTM-A Public Affairs Officer

CAMP STONE, Afghanistan -- Everywhere he went, advancement in the training of Afghan National Security Forces was obvious in the western area of the country.

There is still plenty of work to do, but for Sgt. Maj. Michael Mosites, seeing is believing. And what the sergeant major for Deputy Commander-Regional Support, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan/Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, saw was a lot of tangible hope in training, leadership, and construction to sustain a force scheduled to take control of its nation's security by the end of 2014.

Mosites was on a four-day "BFC" or battlefield circulation Sept. 26-29 in western Afghanistan. That is where DCOM-RS's Regional Support Command-West is located at a camp near Herat.

DCOM-RS has six such RSCs around the country -- North, South, East, West, Southwest and Capital. The command serve as the "ears and eyes" for NTM-A/CSTC-A to facilitate Afghan National Security Forces growth and capacity development to enable transition to Afghan-led security.

DCOM-RS is responsible for providing direct support through constructing facilities, supporting institutional training programs, coordinating designated services, and monitoring accountability and maintenance of major end items to meet enduring and operational requirements in accordance with IJC -- International Joint Command -- priorities for its Regional Commands.

Heading up DCOM-RS is Brig. Gen. Tom Cosentino and leading RSC-West is Col. Roderick Arrington who took command in July.

Just after landing, Mosites, accompanied throughout his BFC by Sgt. Maj. Grear Dale III, RSC-West, went out to an artillery range at nearby Camp Zafar where some students of the Afghan National Army were conducting their second live fire in Afghanistan. The first live fire ever, RSC-West personnel said, in the country was Sept. 12 and was conducted by the same students.

"We have heard this was the first live-fire exercise in Afghanistan," Lt. Col. Mohammed Nasim Trakhail, commander of 4th Kandak (battalion), who was on site observing and advising.

The students are three months into a four-month artillery training course. In the course are 20 officers, 52 noncommissioned officers, and four enlisted men.

Trakhail said firing this time was "much much better" than last month's exercise. Success, he said, was measured by hitting the target 70 percent of the time.

In this exercise, math is critical and the coordinates are determined at an observation post using an "aiming circle" by the fire support officer team. By the second round of firing, the ANA artillery students were hitting the target after initially being off 350 meters -- nearly four football fields.

The students were firing D30 guns using 122mm shells, Mosites said.

Also present was Brig. Gen. Ziarat Shah Abe, commander of the 1st Brigade, a nine-year Army veteran.

"I came here to observe … to make sure they have confidence," he said.

The general added he was pleased with the live-fire exercise.

"In general, it was totally great. Professionally, still some problems," Abe said. We "need more exercises to make it better."

"It's good for the soldiers to talk with the general," said Spanish Lt. Col. Jose Monterde, RSC-West ANA senior operations chief who specializes in training and logistics.

"The skills that they were taught paid off," Mosites said.

From here, Mosites and Dale next toured the Herat Regional Military Hospital. There to greet them were Navy Chief Petty Officer Jim Fyfe and CPO Cedric Franklin, who serve as advisers to the hospital staff.

The one-level hospital will soon be having a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of a new expansion area to allow for more care and treatment. The new area will also include a second pharmacy.

And a new reception area will soon be opening in the original hospital. The hospital also benefits from a helopad located a couple hundred yards away.

The Herat hospital stays busy, Mosites was told, with 150 daily outpatients and a total of 48,000 patients seen last year. This includes ANSF personnel and their family members.

Today, there were 41 patients bedded in the hospital including a little girl who was hit by a piece of metal in the head from an improvised explosive device and was only being kept alive by life support equipment.

Franklin said about the only issue the hospital has is supplies. "That's the biggest struggle I have," Franklin said, of getting the right amount of supplies in a timely manner.

Mosites was also shown the new patient record tracking computer software that will allow the hospital to electronically store information on who was treated for what.

"I'm impressed," Mosites said of the hospital. "It's a clean facility. The general who runs the hospital is a doctor" which is always good.

The next day, the two sergeants major visited the Afghan Border Police barracks compound, Fourth Zone. On site to escort was contractor Rocky Goodwin, who serves as a contract officer's representative for operations at the compound's headquarters.

Goodwin normally works at Red River Army Depot at Texarkana, Texas.

At this location, the adobe-style construction using mud/clay/straw is prevalent. This offers reduced costs and provides the Afghan National Security Forces with sustainable, locally repairable construction. The easier maintenance generates lower lifecycle costs.

Dale, the RSC-West sergeant major, said that when temperatures reach 110 degrees outside, the adobe-style barracks buildings will be about 85 degrees inside -- without air conditioning.

During the winter, Goodwin said the buildings will be heated with up to 10 woodburning stoves each. Because of the materials used, the buildings will retain heat better. Likewise, the roof is comprised of layers of tar paper, clay/dirt, plastic, and hard clay.

"These are going to be very energy-efficient builds," Mosites said, "for years, and years and years." The fuel bill will only consist of electricity for lights and fans, as the hot water will be heated by solar power. Wind mills will be used to pump water out of the wells, he said.

This barracks compound will eventually have paved roads, a new dining facility, and 21 latrines for a population consisting of ABP recruits.

Literacy training will also be taught here, Dale said, twice weekly, with the goal of bringing the ABP up to a third-grade level.

A 120-kilowatt generator will power the compound. Total cost of the project is $3.4 million, Goodwin said. It is expected to be completed by March 2012 and will be headquarters for the 606th ABP district.

The next site toured was the Regional Training Center-Herat. A center for the Afghan National Police -- the civil order police, uniformed police, and border police run by the Italian Carabineiri.

The civil order police program is 14 weeks long and the other two programs six weeks. Eventually, they will be going to eight weeks allowing for more practical demonstrations and driving time, an RSC-West officer said.

During one demonstration on proper technique for handcuffing, Mosites volunteered to participate. "Do you think they could handcuff me," he asked the trainers.

Mosites, who stands a tall 6 feet, 3 inches weighing 245 pounds, proved to be a tough customer as the first handcuffs used were too small for his thick wrists. A larger pair was then used to successfully control him.

About 600-plus students were either in classrooms or outside conducting drill during the visit. Two State Department courses are also taught here -- the Corrections Sector Support Program and Justice Sector Support Program.

Mosites said he was impressed with the ongoing evaluation of the Afghan instructors by the Italians.

"They were just stepping back and letting the Afghans train," he said.

The visit also included looking into other services provided such as the weapon repair and maintenance shop. Mohammad Nazar, site supervisor, said up to 20 people come in daily to have their weapons serviced.

It also included a stop at the Organizational Clothing and Individual Equipment warehouse. Items such as boots, batons, uniforms, etc., are stocked here. There explaining operations were Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Turner, RTC senior enlisted adviser, and Navy Chief Petty Officer Tim Hughes, warehouse noncommissioned-officer in-charge.

One bit of information that really impressed Mosites was the posting of mug shot photos on an inside wall which clearly identifies those Afghan personnel authorized to pick up equipment, reducing the possibility of fraud and waste.

The next day started out at the Adraskan Police Training Center.

"They're ready to get their weapons and serve their country" after graduation, said Afghan Lt. Col. Shafiqullah Tahari, executive officer of the training center.

One student told Mosites and Dale, "I'm really glad I joined the police."

"It's great patriots like these that step forward and serve their country," Mosites told students in a classroom. "I'm really glad you are serving your country and government."

On one building, the words "Defenders of the People" and "Defenders of the Force" are painted in large letters on the front of a building in English.

It is this pride that is prevalent all over the center as it is very clean and organized -- similar to any military training center in the United States. Local Afghan employees, who do a variety of work, can be seen sweeping the sidewalks. And, the barbwired fences don't have plastic bags stuck in them, as is the case in many other Afghan centers.

"It's clean. A very good training site," Mosites said.

"A clean environment is a healthy environment," said Italian Lt. Col. Alessandro Lingeri, coalition site commander, who assisted in the tour.

"We do work together as one team," Tahari said, explaining that a meeting is held Mondays between the Italian advisers and Afghans to discuss improving center operations.

The graduation rate here is very high, Tahari said. Like any military training center, a small percentage of students get injured and will be sent home if the injury takes more than 20 days to heal. Of course, the student will be back for the next cycle, he said.

Mosites asked Tahari about pay. Tahari said all students have a military identification card which enables only them to access their accounts. Those higher ranking, he said, like NCOs, have shared accounts for family members to have access to. These measures have drastically cut down on the corruption regarding pay.

Besides touring a new barracks annex, Mosites and Dale also saw a qualification range for the AK-47, 9mm pistol, and PKM -- a Russian-made machine gun.

On this range, the Afghan students qualify in increments and are certified upon completion.

The final visit was Shindand Airbase. Here Mosites saw numerous builds in progress under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to support a combined training center for the Afghan Army.

The $33 million project -- consisting of 66 buildings -- is expected to be completed by spring of 2012, on-site officials said.

Everything from a power plant, a vehicle maintenance shop, barracks, 12 classroom buildings, a headquarters, dining facility, a medical clinic, sanitation capability, and mosque are being constructed. The power plant will have three 1,250 kilowatt generators and three backup generators if needed.

Showing Mosites and Dale around were Mohammad Ayoub, a quality control engineer with Kabul-based Fazlullah Construction and Engineer Company, and Larry Drane, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer construction representative/project engineer, who normally works at Louisville District, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

"It should be capable of what's required of this installation at this point in time," Drane said.

"We've come quite a ways," he said, "quality from the get go. We have a great relationship with the contractor."

Overall, Mosites was quite pleased with what he saw during his the BFC.

"There's hope," he said. "I've been almost everywhere [in Afghanistan]. They will be ready" by 2014.

Mosites said much has been accomplished since November 2009 when NTM-A stood up to train, build, and professionalize the Afghan Army, Police and Air Force.

"We're focused on training and improvement. Through training them, they can take charge of their country and stand their ground," Mosites said.

"Each class is a little better the last," he said. "Their destiny can be in their own hands."

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