Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

October 30, 2013

Kentucky Guardsmen leave legacy in Afghanistan


Journal-Times

Oct. 30, 2013 — BAGRAM, Afghanistan  - When the deployment for the Kentucky National Guard's 149th Vertical Construction Company is over, the unit will leave behind more than just the many structures they have built in Afghanistan.

The unit includes Guard members from Olive Hill and Cynthiana.

They're leaving behind the knowledge of their construction expertise with the local Afghanistan National Army (ANA) to help ensure the independence of a nation when the U.S. and Coalition forces scale-back their presence in the country.

"This is a mission of building lifelong bonds and structures with our ANA allies," said the commander of the 149th, Capt. Adam Evans.

The training schedules cover all aspects of engineering that is organic to the 149th. This has the Kentucky Guardsmen working very closely with the ANA, teaching them the tools of the trade and will also include some priceless experience learned over the years.

"Vertical construction will be the main emphasis of this training mission but horizontal engineering will be incorporated as well," said Evans. "Even though we are a vertical construction company, we have taken on horizontal training. This allows us to provide full spectrum construction engineering operations to the ANA. We will teach them everything we know to ensure they will be able to build and maintain structures from the ground up without the support of the U.S. and coalition engineers."

The Afghan Army postponed their tactical and combat training a few days out of the week to work with the 149th engineers. The training began with classroom tutorials on basic construction technique and then moved slowly to the hands-on portion of using tools and erecting structures.

The 149th's 3rd Platoon led by 1st Lt. Mathew Doyle began spearheading this training in August with Chief Warrant Officer Robert Woita. Situated in the Regional Command East Territory at Forward Operating Base Shank, the two officers began putting together a training curriculum that walks the Afghan Army through a step by step training process in vertical engineering.

The training plans that Doyle fostered became a standard that is well accepted among ANA and U.S. Coalition Force leaders.  The plan was even adopted as the training model to be passed on to several other ANA brigades throughout Afghanistan.

Doyle and 3rd Platoon received great recognition for these contributions to the mission.

"I can't begin to explain how pleased I am with my platoon," said Doyle. "They have shown time and again that there is no task to big to accomplish. Now that we have the opportunity to expand our experience by teaching our Afghan allies, I'm confident that the men and women of 3rd Platoon will leave this country with a better understanding of the direction Afghanistan is headed. We will teach and be taught and therefore be able to share some amazing experiences when we return back to Kentucky."

The expertise of 3rd Platoon has been highly praised and acknowledged when it comes to the vertical construction field in Afghanistan.

Doyle led the first big construction project in theater for the company that later became the operations command post for the 149th and the 122nd Engineer Battalion they fall under.

They have conducted numerous vertical construction projects since and have earned themselves the opportunity to operate from a satellite location that allows for close proximity with the ANA and the facilities to meet with the Afghan chain of command to accomplish these tasks.

Additional members of the 149th have been dispatched to other parts of the country to conduct similar training from satellite locations.

1st Lt. Michael Hamblin along with Warrant Officer Jacob Lewis are among a group overseeing the Kentucky Guardsmen in Camp Mike Spann in the Regional Command North Territory.

A comparable training curriculum was established by the 149th officers in the Northern Territory because each ANA base employs a

different schedule and adjustments must be made as necessary to fit into the program of the Afghan Army.

"Our Soldiers receive a real sense of serving others and giving by passing on their knowledge to the ANA," said Evans.  "At the end of a long work day, our Guardsmen leave the training site with a great sense of pride and accomplishment.  The ANA are really excited and receptive to learning new skills which make it easy to provide training. For our soldiers, it is a very rewarding experience that they will carry with them long after the deployment is over."

Many meetings with the Afghan National Army Commanders are held to discuss timelines, checks on learning in the form of quizzes for the ANA engineers, schedules for their troops, and training resources that are available.

This is the first challenge for the Guardsmen and it all comes together with the help of local interpreters that bridge the language gap from one nation to another.

"We start by teaching the ANA to request materials for training the way we do. There is some paperwork involved but it only ensures accountability for materials such as lumber for construction or fuel to fill the heavy equipment they will learn to operate," said Hamblin. "In a part of the world where most things are accomplished with a handshake and a good faith gesture, we try to explain the importance of following the proper chain of command when requesting supplies so that when we leave there is an accountable system established. This is the most difficult hurdle thus far."

Once the training is in full swing, the 149th troops get to work passing along the engineering knowhow and check the retention of information by administering periodic testing.

The vertical engineer team gives written exams that have been translated from English to Dari, which is the local dialect in the North.

The heavy equipment team grades their students by watching them operate the equipment after giving them a task to perform with the heavy machinery.

All is part of a bigger picture to guarantee that the ANA will be ready to continue training and execute their own missions by the time the 149th is ready to redeploy back to Kentucky.

"Were making leaps and bounds with the Afghan Army despite the language barrier we face," said Lewis. "All seem very eager to learn and show up to class early. It's a great experience to be given the chance, not only to teach but to get to know them on a much more personal level. Everyday it's a different experience working with the ANA and it's also very exciting at the same time."

In addition to the 149th currently being engaged in two separate Afghan Army training missions, the unit is presently making plans to adopt a few more similar missions in other parts of the Regional Command East Territory.

This will put the Kentucky Guardsmen at the top of the list for having the most missions that involve direct contact with the ANA. The company will now shift focus from construction to construction training as the end of another deployment for the 149th is just around the corner.

"Afghanistan is moving forward and with the right tools they will succeed," said unit 1st Sgt. Grayden Colegrove.  "I'm very pleased that we had a chance to be a big part of the training that will later show when Afghanistan is on its own. Our vertical structures may someday be

demolished, but the ability to educate and pass on our experience to the people of Afghanistan will last long after our buildings come down. We will return home and back to our civilian jobs knowing we left a legacy here in Afghanistan."