By Erica Fouche
Combined Joint Task Force Paladin
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – To prepare Afghan forces to take over security duties after the 2014 NATO withdrawal, Combined Joint Task Force Paladin continues training its international partners on counter-improvised explosive device methods through its explosive hazard reduction course.
On Jan. 3, there were 29 Afghan National Army soldiers, Afghan Uniform Police officers, and Afghan special forces commandos that received diplomas during a joint graduation ceremony.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Thompson congratulated the graduates on behalf of Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander, ISAF Regional Command - South.
“It is always an honor to attend an EHRC graduation,” said Thompson. “We want to see the graduates take the training and skills learned during the course back to their units to train others, successfully complete their missions, and mostly, save the lives of others.
The course was instructed by Royal Australian Engineers Sgt. Shane Clark and Sgt. Scott Newton, but was ultimately led by three ANA soldiers who previously completed the EHRC training.
“We are the main instructors who formulate the regiment plan,” explained Newton. “But throughout the course we slowly step back so it’s eventually the ANA leading the course themselves to help build those critical self-efficiency skills. I’m especially proud of this group because there were several different security elements coming together, and they worked extremely well.”
The EHRC ranges from three-four weeks - with one week of theory in the classroom; the majority of which takes place outside where the students gain valuable hands-on experience. It serves as a basic course that trains Afghan soldiers to safely locate, identify, and blow in place simple IEDs and unexploded ordnances.
“As instructors we don’t want to just teach our methods of operations,” stressed Newton. “We work with skills the students already have and elaborate on different, safer ways to conduct their tasks.”
Creating a healthy mix of old and new methods is a challenge EHRC instructors are prepared to overcome at the beginning of each class.
“It’s very important we don’t come across as just badgering them on what they do wrong.”
This particular class graduated at a 100 percent success rate, which isn’t always the case. Since knowledge and safety play a critical role in explosive ordnance disposal missions, EHRC instructors are fairly strict on who passes and fails.
“This group was pretty young and managed to pick up on the training concepts fairly quickly,” Newton proudly recalled. “Plus, there was a genuine desire among the students to learn how to protect themselves and their people.”
In fact, when asked why those chose a career in explosives, several graduates did declare the importance of the job and saving lives as key factors as to what drew them to the field.
“I enjoy the engineering side of EOD, and it’s good to support different units,” said Sgt. Darwish, an E-7 in the AUP. “The enemy uses IEDs, and I want to help defeat those IEDs and the enemy; EOD allows me that great opportunity.”
The graduates hail from all over Afghanistan with homes ranging from Kandahar to Kunar to Sari Pul. Lt. Col. Khyer Mohammad, chief engineer at 2/205th Corps, thanked the graduates for the dedication displayed throughout the course by being away from families and enduring bad weather. Mohammed also encouraged graduates to look toward attending engineering school at Mazar-I-Sharif to become EOD team leaders.
“The EHRC is the first step, but additional vetting and training are required to become certified EOD technicians,” explained Newton. “Some graduates will continue their education, but for most of the students this is as far as they’ll go.
It was evident this course was a milestone achievement for all when after receiving their diploma each graduate turned to his classmates, raised his diploma high, and enthusiastically declared,
“I will serve for Afghanistan.”
A declaration that matters more each day as the NATO withdrawal approaches.
“They know it’s a tough job to do,” acknowledges Newton. “But these men want to make Afghanistan a safer place and this is the best way they know how.”
CJTF Paladin is responsible for all coalition counter-IED operations and training in Afghanistan.