USMC Embedded Training Team Trains Under Fire


An Afghan national army soldier fires an M-249 squad automatic weapon during a fire fight with insurgent forces in a remote mountain village in Kunar province, Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, Sept. 24. Embedded Training Teams across Afghanistan have been teaching ANA Soldiers on proper use of NATO-style weapons, such as the U.S. military's M-249 SAW, in order to transform the emerging army from a Soviet-style military, into a modern fighting force.

Story by Sgt. Matthew Moeller

Posted: 10.13.2009 02:33

ETTs: Training Under Fire

The sun has barely risen over the Korengal valley, Sept. 24, and service members with Embedded Training Team 7-5 are under fire.

Shanahan, a native of New Lenox, Ill., is the senior officer in charge of ETT 7-5, a small team tasked with training and mentoring the emerging Afghan soldiers serving in the volatile valley, today the training ends and the "practical exercise" begins.

Off to the side, an Afghan national army soldier fires his machine gun at the insurgents in the surrounding hillsides, his expelled cartridges litters the ground below. Above him, other ANA soldiers fire rocket propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles, with ETT service members firing alongside.

An ETT Marine shouts a series of expletives as an explosion rocks the area near him.

Fifteen minutes later, mortars fired from a nearby U.S. Army outpost, rain down on the insurgent positions, and the battle ends. The team and the ANA soldiers hike the mountain trail back home to the tiny Korengal Outpost, in Afghanistan's Kunar province.

If all goes according to the International Security Assistance Force's plan, this team, and others like it, holds the future of Afghanistan.

With ISAF's plan to eventually turn all security operations over to the emerging Afghan national army, ETTs across the country must transform their ANA counterparts from a rag-tag group of rebel fighters and farmers that helped overthrow the Taliban in 2001, into a modern military force capable of protecting its own borders and people.

The day after being attacked, a group of ANA soldiers sit together in the dark, windowless room, at the Korengal Outpost watching a presentation on effectively firing a machine gun. Several Afghan soldiers had problems loading and firing their U.S. military M-249 squad automatic weapon, which are being used by a select few Afghan soldiers. Shanahan and his troops want to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"Where does this guy shoot first?" Shanahan asks, motioning to the graphic projected on the wall.

The Afghans in the room look hesitant to respond. "None of you know the answer," Shanahan says, grinning.

Finally an Afghan soldier answers, and the ETTs in the room look impressed. "Let's take a ten minute break and we'll go outside," Shanahan said.

Outside U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Kim is waiting. Like all the ETTs serving in the Korengal, Kim, a rifleman, volunteered to come to Afghanistan to train the ANA. In the month he's been here, Kim has seen more action than most service members will see during their entire tour.

The Springfield, Va., native admits working with the ANA is "a lot different than patrolling with Marines or Soldiers." But he states he would "definitely fight with them any day."

Today he plans on testing the ANA on what they just learned in the class by taking them to the outpost's small weapons range to practice using the M-249 SAW, one of several NATO weapons ISAF hopes will eventually replace the ANA's Soviet-era weaponry.

With steady patience, Kim, a fellow ETT corpsman and Shanahan walk the Afghans through all the steps required to operate multiple machine guns as a team, using balloons as targets.

"Overall they did pretty well considering it was their first time," Kim says. "There's some room for improvement, but that is to be expected."

Training like this is why ISAF puts so much hope in the ETTs. Four days later the ANA along with their ETT counterparts are back in the village of Lanayal.

The village is empty of adult males. The local elder is nervous, not wanting to talk and staying close to the wall while looking to the mountains that surround the small gathering of homes.

To the Afghan and U.S. service members, it appears the "practical exercise" is about to begin again.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Charles Kim, a native of Springfield, Va., describes the proper coaching position while teaching Afghan national army soldiers how to fire an M-249 squad automatic weapon, at the Korengal Outpost in Kunar province, Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, Sept. 25. Kim, along with fellow Embedded Training Team 7-5 Marines and Sailors, have been teaching ANA soldiers on proper use of NATO-style weapons, such as the U.S. military's M-249 SAW, in order to transform the emerging army from a Soviet-style military, into a modern fighting force.
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