Life on the FOB- Afghanistan Day 20 – “You can hear when they’re aiming at you”
Today was largely a dissapointing day. Not just because there wasn’t much for me to see and to do but I think everyone in advisers group has been bummed out. Sgt P. for example got off to a bad start when, during a ambush training, his students showed up with a M249 SAW machine gun but not one M16. SGT P. asked why the students and more importantly why the instructors hadn’t brought their weapons. The reply, from the interpreter was, “They didn’t think they’d need them.” Flustered, Sgt. P shouted to the students, “For fucks sake! How’d you think we were going to do an ambush! Why’d they bring a fucking 249?”
The day started off on a bad footing. At 0730 we all showed up. But as soon as everyone rallied, a message came down saying that everyone had to go to the gym to help set up the new multi-gym. Since everyone was all kited up and had already loaded up the vehicles, this news was not met with smiles. Moreover, several of the advisers got called into a meeting with one of the ANA Majors over what I suspect was a misunderstanding. Yesterday a group of ANA students rebeled against their instructor and the advisers when, after doing only one break contact drill [i.e. breaking contact with an ambush] the students, led by one in particular, refused to conduct any further training. The advisers became pissed of because they thought the students were being lazy. The students claimed that the advisers were somthing like slave drivers. However, I don’t find this to be an accurate statement since the advisers generally go along with the ANA instructors and let them release the students after, at most 4 hours of training. One of the students, who the advisers think is the son of a mullah or someone else important, complained to the infantry school staff and so several adivsers were called in for a consult. This the advisers were not happy about.
Other advisers were pissed off because they had to go to a conference. They had expected, as one of the Smudges put it, “for it to be real academic like. But nah. Instead every single one of the ANA instdructors, all these guys from the training centers around the country, all they do is get up and say ‘we have no stationary.’ Come on now, is that all you have to say? Fucking ridicouls. Come all the way here and all you can say is ‘we have no stationary.’ That can’t be the only issue you have.”
Then, later in the morning, while out on the 100m range, there was the distinct report of “effective gunfire.” That is, from the Taliban village nearby a single shooter decided to shoot at us again. Though the shots were off by about 100m, there was the disinct sound of rounds passing by (unlike last time when all you could hear was the impact). One of the SGTs, after scrambling for his M24 grumbled, “You can hear when they are aiming at you!”
All in all, everyone was in a sour mood, and no one got any effective training done. The advisers here really do care about the ANA students and instructors. When they aren’t advising they are constantly strategize how to teach better and increase the performance of the ANA students. They are also worried and exasperated. One of the advisers, at lunch groaned, “Fuck, in a week these guys go South [to Helmund], they just aren’t bloody ready. The instructors haven’t been there [i.e. fought before] and they aren’t making sure that these guys are ready to survive. Its tough down there. We are trying everything we can to help the students but if we don’t let the instructors take over and make them better then what happens to these lads when we leave. They’ll be fucked mate. These guys [the instructors] they get these positions because their family has pull and doesn’t want them to go to the South but that is bad for the students because they aren’t being taught by people with experience. People who understand what they will be going to.”
On the dry fire range, SGT. S and Stu were out with their interpreter, Wahid the instructor, and two squads of students. In a somewhat comical fashion, the adivsers misconstrue a contact exercise that Wahid has the instructors doing. SGT. S. wonders aloud, “Today is an ambush day. Why are the doing contacts?” Stu replies, “Maybe they are confusing ambused and ambushing.” The two advisers go back and forth debating whether or not they need to changer the terminology they use. Fez, the interpreter gets defenseive too! “I was clear, today is small unit ambushes. I didn’t tell them to practice getting ambushed. ” Then SGT S. had to placate Fez, “Oh no Fez, we don’t think you made any mistake, we just aren’t sure if we’re being clear of they [the instructors] don’t understand the difference between ambushed and ambushing. When Wahid has a pause, after putting the two squads through contact drills, SGT S. has him come over. Wahid explains that because they had extra time on the dry fire range that day that he was doing remedial training. He then laid out his plan to do small unit ambushes, after evaluating whether or not his student first understood the break contact drills. Pleased, SGT S. and Stu took a back seat to the training and were largely satisfied with the days work. I thought this was a nice simple example of how people come to see a cultural difference, when, in fact, none is in play.