Saturday, February 12

Recently the first 'Plebe' class of Afghanistan's new National Military Academy reported in for basic training. This is Afghanistan's equivalent to West Point. My office went there to write a story about it and shoot some video for future use in a story about the Academy. Here's the story that LTC M. ended up writing. It was published in the Pakistan Tribune as well as a number of military related publications and websites.

KABUL, Afghanistan—On a snowy day in February, Afghanistan’s first class of cadets took their place in history and reported for duty at the new National Military Academy Afghanistan.
The Academy is located on the grounds of a former flight technology school in Kabul.
Modeled after West Point, the Academy is a four-year, degree-granting institution that will commission 2nd lieutenants for the Afghan National Army.
Cadets will earn an engineering degree with an emphasis on civil, mechanical, systems or electrical engineering.
They will incur a 25-year service commitment upon graduation.
Assistant Minister for Personnel and Education Homayun Fawzi welcomed the first class, telling them to “be proud of their enlistment in this Academy.”
Planning for the academy began more than a year ago, when then-Office of Military Cooperation - Afghanistan Chief Army Maj. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry and senior Afghan Ministry of Defense leaders decided to establish an academy that would be the “crown jewel” of Afghan education.
Military Academy Study Team Chief Col. Barney Forsythe, OMC-A, and Maj. Gen. Mohammad Juma Nassar, MOD General Staff Working Group Director, submitted their initial plan for the Academy to the MOD and Chief, OMC-A in November 2003.
West Point deans and department heads then began the planning process, deploying to Afghanistan for several months at a time to write policy, develop admission standards and determine the curriculum. They completed all steps hand in hand with their MOD counterparts, to ensure programs were adapted to meet Afghan standards and culture.
Said Academy Superintendent Maj. Gen. Mohammed Sharif, “Our environments (U.S. and Afghan) are different. Planners considered all cultural aspects and did not impose anything on us. While the academy will be similar to West Point,” said Sharif, “It will not be the same.”
The MOD identified 1,023 potential professors with the necessary advanced degrees. OMC-A Academy Team Chief Col. James Wilhite and West Point faculty and OMC-A members Col. Ray Winkle, Col. Gary Krahn and Dr. Larry Butler winnowed the list, selecting 200 candidates with special criteria for teaching everything from world history to physics to chemistry to psychology.
The team eventually hired 30 professors to form the academic faculty.
By the end of November 2004, 353 cadet candidates had completed the competitive entrance exam. The MOD, in conjunction with OMC-A staff, then conducted personal interviews and selected the top 120 young men to join the first class.
Future classes will have between 250 to 300 students each, and upperclassmen will take on leadership rules in guiding the underclassmen.
Said Sharif of the Academy, “It represents all the ethnicities of this country.”
The curriculum focuses on engineering because, “Our country is war struck and devastated,” said Sharif. “We are in the process of rehabilitating it. We need more engineers because we need reconstruction.”
Cadets, who are between the ages of 18 and 23, will earn $80 a month as well as receive free books, supplies, housing and food, in addition to their education.
After seven weeks of basic combat training, graduates will begin their academic studies. In addition to their engineering curriculum, they will study military leadership, ethics and psychology, among other topics.
“Our objective is to make a very strong and reliable army for Afghanistan,” said 1st Lt. Abdul Haq, 2nd Platoon Leader and a military instructor at the Academy. “It should be accepted by all people. I was waiting to see the wars ended and see people take part in educational programs.
“I am thankful for your (U.S.) part in helping,” said Haq.
Sixteen officers and noncommissioned officers are staffing cadet basic training. Eight of them will remain on site during the academic year.
Platoon sergeant Sgt. 1st. Class Asadullah Nawabi echoed Haq’s sentiments, saying “I would like to thank the U.S. military in helping us get things done.” He was looking forward to teaching the cadets.
Some cadets had spent a lifetime planning for this day. Said Abdul Saboor from Baghlan Province, “Ever since I was a child I wanted to join the army. I left Kabul University and changed my major to come here.”
Top scorer on the entrance exam was Jamshiud Dehzad of Laghman Province. Top graduate of Shaheed Mohammed Arif High School in Jalalabad, Dehzad said he was not only happy to be there, but “proud.”
“We came to do our best to make our country successful,” said cadet Abudul Ghafar from Mazar-e-Sharif of his attendance at the school.
“It is my country,” said Platoon Sergeant Sgt. 1st. Class Ghazi Ahmad of Paktia Province as if puzzled by the question about why he would serve at the Academy.
If he did not serve his country, then who would?
U.S. Army Corps of Engineer personnel prowled the campus on opening day, completing punch lists of work to be done and fine-tuning adjustments to the heat and lighting. “We want to make sure our contractors understand the needs,” said Mike Rosales.
As old as the army are complaints about the food. What did the new cadets think of theirs?
“The food is great right now,” said Abdul Qodos of Paktia Province, “But I don’t know about the future.”
The future is bright for Afghanistan, and for these young men who have stood up to be counted and to take their place in history.

Here is a photo looking out over the 'quad' from a second story window at one of the buildings being renovated for the academy.

This is a new cadet signing in.

This is one of the classrooms. As they signed in, they were sent to the classrooms to wait. The desks kind of reminded me of the ones on Little House on the Prairie. The students come from all ethnic groups and walks of life around the country.

This is LTC M. and our interpreter interviewing an Afghan Soldier about the start of the academy.

Reps from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers go over plans with the contractor and conduct a post-construction inspection in one of the academy barracks.

The academy dining facility and a table of new 'plebes'. They haven't received uniforms yet, nor any training.

Me eating with an Afghan Soldier. It was a dish Afghans eat every day for lunch called Kabali. I'm not sure if the spelling is correct. It's flat bread, rice with raisins and some veggies, with a side of chicken or a hunk of meat. They also drink Chai tea and have plenty of nice fruit for desert.

Here are some photo's of a group of women hired to clean the windows of a newly renovated portion of the academy dining facility.

This one was very shy and turned away every time we tried to take a picture of her. This shot was taken with a telephoto lense from close to 80 feet away.

Afghans working construction at the academy 'take 5' and try to stay warm.

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