CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan --
Standing in the heated sand of the desert, the men of Afghan National Security Forces shouted “oorah” alongside their Marine counterparts during their two weeks of weapons training at Echo Range here, March 31.
During the two-week portion of the non-commissioned officer course when ANSF students go to the rifle range, Afghans learn weapons tactics, leadership and professional development under the guidance of Marines with the Joint Security Academy Southwest.
Much like the Marine Corps, Afghan non-commissioned officers are selected to go to the course by their respective command based on job performance and leadership qualities.
While on the range, ANSF troops perfect their rifle shooting techniques, and some learn to shoot a pistol for the first time. During their down time, Marines go over battlefield techniques and positioning.
“We need to know tactics, so we can be better fighters and defeat our enemy,” said Afghan National Army Staff Sgt. Muhammad Nabi, a student at JSAS. “The Marines are good teachers, and they make you want to work harder because you can see how tough they are and how hard they work.”
According to JSAS instructors, the students have done a great job of taking the knowledge from the Marines and putting it to use. Some of the students even exceed the expectations of their instructors.
“The improvement with the weapons has been night and day from the day they got here,” said 1st Lt. Thomas L. Malone, the ANSF training team officer-in-charge for JSAS. “Some couldn’t even hit the target from the prone at first, and now they are doing pivot drills and nailing it center mass,” added Malone, a native of Glenburnie, Md.
Marine instructors credit the ANSF’s experience with shooting weapons as one reason they’ve been able to catch on so quickly.
“These guys know the stuff we are teaching them, we are only fine tuning what they already know,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob M. Hayes, a range safety officer with JSAS. “They grew up with these weapons. Some of them even shoot better than the Marines,” noted Hayes, a native of Miami.
The Marines know when their guidance is working. Students credit Marines with a thumbs up, high five or a smile when they hit their target.
“They are very friendly with us and care about teaching us,” said Afghanistan Uniformed Police Sgt. Seyed-Reza Haskerzada, the class leader for the NCO course.
Haskerzada said the Marines are brothers to them, who can relate to the situation they face.
“We are all away from family and miss our family. We are here together sharing one common interest, which is to bring peace to Afghanistan,” he added.
At the range, students shot AK-47 rifles, M-16 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and semi-automatic weapons. They also learned battlefield maneuvers such as buddy rushes, which entails a fire team gaining ground on their enemy while providing cover for each other.
Even the language barrier could not stop Marines and Afghans from laughing, working hard and firing rounds down range.
“It is important to have that sense of humor with them because we are in this together to help each other and not bring each other down,” said Hayes.
As the Afghans have embraced the Marines’ guidance, they have also embraced their leadership.
“Everything I learn from the Marines I write down so I can pass my knowledge on to my soldiers at my unit and be a leader for them,” said Haskerzada, whose father was an officer in the military.
Marines also said they are learning new things from the Afghans.
Malone said Marines are learning how to speak Pashto and Dari, while the ANSF are learning how to speak English.
The ANSF students here help one another to grow as a smarter and quicker uniformed force, Hayes said. “They are very eager to come in here and work hard every day. I am very impressed in how willing the students are to work with us.”
Upon graduation, many of the security forces will go back to their respective units to apply the skills they learned to real-life situations.
No matter what the student’s job is in their unit, Hayes said, the ANSF are much like Marines – every Afghan soldier is a rifleman first.