“Inches and seconds. Inches and seconds. That’s what we want.”
Twenty minutes prior, as armored vehicles returned from patrol, a loud explosion sounded inside the walls of a small firebase encircled by green hills and snow-capped mountains. White smoke billowed from the impact site.
“Go! Go! Go!” was yelled as people began to scatter, grabbing body armor and weapons as they went. Each of them had a place to be.
On this tiny base in the northwestern part of Khas Konar District, Konar province, U.S. Army soldiers and Afghan National Security Forces live together, fight together and conduct battle drills together.
The explosion was a smoke canister – a training exercise for the soldiers, who reacted with urgency. Joining their Afghan partners, soldiers from Task Force Iron Ranger manned the towers, the mortar pit, and the front gate.
“These guys spend every day together. The drills prepare them for the unexpected,” said a U.S. Special Forces officer and commander of the firebase.
Within ten minutes the drill was over and the men regrouped to talk over the planned reactions verses the reality.
“So, who had things go wrong?” asked the officer.
A private first class slowly raised his hand. “I had issues with the ladder at the tower. It’s broken – one of the pieces of wood is twisted.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Inches and seconds. That’s what will make the difference if something actually happens,” said the officer. “So when is that ladder going to be fixed?”
“Today,” echoed the room.
“Only two of us knew exactly when the drill was going to happen,” said a squad leader from TF Iron Ranger. “The uncertainty of it is important in building confidence in their abilities to act as if it’s second-nature.”
The drills aren’t just to build confidence in themselves, it’s also to build confidence between the Americans and the Afghans, who live and eat together, but also have to be able to move and fight together.
One of the largest barriers between the two groups is language. To address the challenge in communication, one of the Afghan interpreters gives a class every night after dinner.
“I teach English to the Afghans and Pashtun to the Americans. And then they practice with each other,” said the terp.
These steps bring the coordination between the Afghan and U.S. security forces closer, and the drills train them to move as one unit.
“After the drill, we were able to look at our faults and plug our holes,” said the squad leader. “Each time there will be fewer holes until there are none.”
The meeting ended and the soldiers went back to what they were doing prior to the explosion. And a few took time to go fix the ladder.
Article by Sgt. Katryn McCalment, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan Media Operations Center