The War in Afghanistan – TIP OF THE SPEAR

This is TNCP’s last installment of our “War Series”.  In previous
editions, we highlighted the Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War.

     President George W. Bush discussed Afghanistan on September 29, 2006 and described how U.S. Forces are training the Afghan National Army to fight the Global War on Terror. Bush said “As Afghans have braved the terrorists and claimed their freedom, we’ve helped them, and we will continue to help them. It’s in our interests that we help this young democracy survive and grow strong. We helped them build security forces they need to defend their democratic gains. In the past five years, our coalition has trained and equipped more than 30,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army.”
Part of that coalition to assist Afghanistan in fielding a competent Army, according to Michigan Army National Guard Maj. Shawn Harris, Team Chief, is the Embedded Training Teams. Maj. Harris, an officer with both Artillery and Infantry background is leading the second ETT fielded by the Michigan Army National Guard.  The National Guard assumed this mission on October 6, 2006 from Forces Command and will perform it until the Secretary of Defense determines it has been completed.
The ETT will mentor, train, and assist with the professional development of the ANA as well as accompanying them on combat operations and serve as liaison between the ANA and U.S. or Allied forces. One commissioned officer and one noncommissioned officer will attach to each ANA rifle company or “Kandak”.  
Sgt. Maj. David Marshall, the ETT Senior Noncommissioned officer in charge, stated that the mission of the ETT will be to mentor the ANA battalion in refining tactics, and using U.S. doctrine starting at squad, platoon  and to company level.
The ETT is composed of Soldiers from Joint Forces Headquarters, Recruiting Command, and the 177th  Regiment (Regional Training Institute) tentatively scheduled to mobilize in February, and has begun its own training cycle because it has never trained together as a unit. This early train up period is to create the team building process to take place and to train Soldiers to Army standards on Infantry tasks they will perform in Afghanistan.  
The first training event the ETT at Camp Grayling, Mich. was a three mile road march with rucksacks and body armor. Many team members have been away from tactical units for a significant length of time, so the road march was done to promote a sense of urgency to get in shape for the mountains of Afghanistan. Sgt. 1st Class Wilson Tang observed that much of Afghanistan is high elevation mountains and said that he would do more road marches on his own time because “Due to the altitude and terrain in Afghanistan, it’s a form of life insurance for the infantry.”
After the road march, the ETT Soldiers immersed themselves in weapons, tactical air support, and Afghan cultural training provided by 177th RTI instructors and two 1st Battalion, 126th Armor NCOs that deployed to Afghanistan in April, 2005 with the first Michigan Army National Guard ETT.
First Sgt. David Schneider and Staff Sgt Jeremiah Harlan, the 2005 Afghan ETT veterans, added a much needed “boots on the ground” perspective to the training. The NCOs gave input on the structure, training, and weapons used by ANA. Mid way through the training, Staff Sgt. Harlan donned Afghan “Shalwar Kamez” clothing and a “pokol” hat and held a typical Afghan tea social with sweets. They also trained the team on close air support request techniques used in Afghanistan.
The Afghan ETT veterans related challenges and solutions that would be encountered in Afghanistan. One challenge was learning Russian weapons systems such as the 12.7mm DSHK machinegun. Schneider stated there aren’t many examples of this machinegun in the United States, so the Afghan veterans advised the outgoing ETT to get training from U.S. Special Forces or their ANA counterparts on this critical weapon. The Afghan ETT vets said the ANA soldiers loved to share their knowledge and give weapons classes.
    Another challenge the outgoing ETT will face is radio communications between Afghan and U.S. forces. The ANA has a functioning communications system that allows long range transmissions down to the platoon level, but this system is unable to communicate with the U.S. radio net because it is incapable of frequency hopping.
Both Schneider and Harlan stressed the need for the ETT to be proficient with the U.S. “Spitfire” radio and SATCOM telephone procedures so they could serve as liaison between Afghan and U.S. or Allied forces. Radio proficiency is also a key component to calling for artillery or air strikes and medical evacuation.
Upon conclusion of the seven day training event, Maj. Harris reiterated to his Soldiers the importance the ETT will play in the Global War on Terror and the need to be in top physical shape to succeed in the mission.  “Gentlemen, we are the tip of the spear, never forget that!”
The ETT Soldiers left Camp Grayling at the end of the training session with many lessons learned, strengths and weaknesses assessed, and the knowledge that the level of intensity to train for the ETT mission is going to steadily increase as the deployment date nears.