HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Temperatures rose in the desert as Afghan National Army soldiers with 4th Kandak, 1st Brigade, 215th Corps, recently fired their first artillery rounds in Helmand province since their unit was formed in May.
The soldiers began their artillery training at the Kabul Military Training Center and, upon graduating, fell under the mentorship of Marines with the Combat Support Advisory Team attached to 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, and select Marines with Charlie Battery, 1/12.
The CSAT has worked side-by-side with the Afghan artillerymen since May to get the soldiers ready for their live-fire shoot. The ANA knew how to process a fire mission when the two military forces first met, but the Marines offered to increase their proficiency and skill. One of the biggest improvements made was in the Fire Direction Center, where Marines compute a target’s range, direction and precise target location when a request for fire support comes in.
“In terms of the FDC we wanted to bring their mission processing time down,” said St. Louis native 2nd Lt. Bradley Naert, an advisor with the CSAT. “It was taking them roughly 10-15 minutes to process a mission and have the data ready after receiving a call for fire; now they are down to six minutes, so that is a big success.”
The advisors often had no translators to instruct the ANA soldiers and had to learn Dari in order to teach them. When translators were available, the mentors found it best to teach them in order to better describe it to the ANA members. The Afghan soldiers seemed excited and motivated to learn a new skill, whether taught by Marines or through translators.
“When we trained the ANA, they were excited and paid attention to the training,” said Lawrenceville, Ga., native Staff Sgt. Mitchell H. Hamilton, an advisor with the CSAT. “They learned and caught on very quickly. Even with the lack of interpreters at times, it was amazing to see how fast they caught on.”
The soldiers put their new skills to the test during their first shoot in the Afghan desert. The first day the ANA and Marines arrived at the training area and began setting up the four soviet-made 122 mm howitzer D-30 artillery cannons. Before long the sun began to dip down below the horizon, and the soldiers sent their first volley of high explosive dual purpose artillery rounds down range. Excitement erupted from the soldiers as they saw all of their training pay off. The day ended on a high note, leading to more anticipation and shooting for the second day.
“I was happy when we shot because we put in practice and it shows we understand what we have learned,” said Afghan Sgt. Mowladad Wafa, a recorder with one of the gun sections. “I was happy to hit the target – so far we’ve had a successful shoot.”
The second day of firing began early. The ANA soldiers gathered around the gun line, polishing their drill movements in anticipation for the arrival of the kandak commander and brigade general. They spent the afternoon and evening sending rounds down range, increasing their proficiency and becoming more confident with the weapon system.
“Artillery allows the ANA to provide that long-range fire when one of their friendly units comes under attack,” said Fairborn, Ohio, native Capt. Mitchell Moore, the commanding officer for Charlie Battery, 1/12. “When the Unites States reduces (its) presence here, (the ANA) need to have that capability so when they operate outside the wire, they have that comfort umbrella of knowing wherever they are they have an ANA brother who can provide fire support.”
The ANA soldiers’ confidence began to show as they became more comfortable using the howitzers at the end of the second day of firing. Enthusiasm kept spirits high, and the Afghan soldiers showed they were capable and ready to perform for their leadership.
The final day of firing arrived and when the kandak commander and brigade general arrived, the Afghan soldiers snapped to attention, ready to demonstrate the full capabilities of the weapon system.
The soldiers manned the gun line waiting for a fire mission from the forward observers, ANA soldiers placed down range who call in targets. The Afghan soldiers executed properly when the call for fire came and, after being verified by their Marine mentors, the soldiers sent another volley of rounds into the air, eagerly seeking their targets.
The leadership was pleased with the demonstration, and the Marines said the training evolution was a success.
“The ANA are out here self supporting,” said Moore. “We are offering advice and support; however, this is an Afghan-led training evolution. That is a real success from where we started when they weren’t sure of themselves and lacked confidence. Out here you see that confidence growing and the capability that goes with that.”
Editor’s note: First Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to 2nd Marine Divi-sion (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat ele-ment of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency opera-tions. 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 ex-pansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.