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U.S. Army Capt. Nicole Zupka of Fair Lawn, N.J., a battlewatch captain with Combined Joint Task Force-Paladin, helps an Afghan child with her writing skills during female engagement team training (click for more)
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LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- The Afghan National Army soldier grabbed the handles on the .50 caliber machine gun, unlocked them and slid them up and off the heavy frame of the weapon Feb. 1 at Forward Operating Base Mehtar Lam. His friends from the unit looked over his shoulder, watching him intently from behind.
Removing the handles was the first of many steps in disassembling the weapon. Also watching were U.S. Army Sgt. Leo Pins, a cavalry scout, team leader with the scout/sniper platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, and U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Burke, a field artillery gunner attached to the scout/sniper platoon.
The two U.S. Army Soldiers from the Iowa National Guard’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, taught the ANA soldiers how to disassemble, clean and reassemble the weapon in a two-hour training session the week before.
After training was complete, instructors had the students disassemble and reassemble a weapon. The test was the moment of truth for Afghan soldier Abdul Ahmad, a rifleman with 2nd Company, 1st Battalion, 201st Infantry Corps, to see what he had retained from the training.
“The ANA soldiers didn’t originally know anything about the .50 cal,” Pins said. “So we taught them the basics: how to take the weapon apart and what to look for to make sure it will function correctly. It’s been about a week, so all I wanted to see was how much they retained from my first class.”
He appreciated the results.
“When I came over here this time, they actually had the bolt completely taken apart, which is something I didn’t teach them in the first class. They already figured out how to take it apart and put it back together, so that shows me that in their off time, they’ve been working with each other to learn more about the weapon, and that they had retained a lot from what we taught them the first week,” Pins said.
Piece by piece, for about 10 minutes or so, Ahmad stripped the weapon down, and then carefully put it all back together. Pins and Burke mostly observed the young soldier, but occasionally stepped in to show him a trick for getting a part he was having difficulty with to lock in to place.
“It’s pretty impressive, because it takes some of our own Soldiers more than once to even remember half the stuff involved with disassembling and reassembling this weapon,” Pins said.
Pins, a native of Dyersville, Iowa, is on his third deployment and has worked with .50 caliber Machine guns the last six years.
“I know a lot of the little quirks to make it easier to take this weapon apart,” he said. “I’ve been slowly teaching them what I’ve learned and a lot of them have picked it up, as well as learned their own ways, which is amazing to see in their second class.”
Pins said the ANA soldiers’ senior leadership learned the weapon and taught it to their younger soldiers, which Pins said he was happy to see. Ahmad was one of the Soldiers who excelled.
“I watched the Americans take apart the .50 caliber machine gun,” Ahmad said. “I watched it very carefully, because I had never touched one before. Now I know how to take it apart and put it back together again, and shoot and clean the weapon. I am happy that I learned that.”
After Ahmad had taken the weapon completely apart then reassembled it, he was not done. Burke and Pins watched as the Soldier then checked the headspace and timing to ensure the weapon would fire correctly and was ready for combat.
“They know how to do everything now, and if something happens with that .50 cal, they should know how to fix it,” said Burke, a native of Sioux City, Iowa.
Meanwhile, about 30 yards away, the soldiers from the other half of the ANA platoon were gathered around three of their humvees. The up-armored vehicles were inherited from the coalition, but now the ANA soldiers are responsible for maintaining and operating the vehicles. That’s where U.S. Army Spcs. Rene Girasek, a chemical equipment repair specialist with Co. E, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt., and Richard Rawson, a field artillery gunner attached to the scout/sniper platoon of HHC, came into the picture.
Girasek, who hails from Postville, Iowa, and Rawson, from Sioux City, Iowa, taught the ANA soldiers the step-by-step process of preventive maintenance checks and services on the humvees.
“We taught them the three classes of leaks, how to check the fluids and the steps of (doing preventive maintenance on) the vehicle,” Rawson said. “Afterward, we split them into three groups on the vehicles and supervised them while they went over it themselves.”
Girasek, who works every day with the mechanics in Co. E, has an in-depth knowledge of the vehicles and stressed to the ANA soldiers why proper PMCS are important.
“I tried to explain why it’s important to conduct a proper PMCS,” Girasek said. “If you go on a mission and your truck dies because it’s been leaking and there’s no oil in it, it gets overheated or your tires didn’t have enough air in them and they go flat, you will not be in a good situation. So we showed them how to conduct PMCS to ensure their truck will work properly.”
Rawson said they also showed the soldiers how to switch the vehicle to four-wheel-drive mode in the event they get stuck in the rough Afghan terrain during a mission.
The U.S. Soldiers said they conduct weekly training with their ANA counterparts on everything from vehicle and weapons maintenance to tactical maneuvers. Pins summed up the importance of the training sessions.
“We’ve been working with these guys for the last two months now, and we go out and do a lot of scout missions,” Pins said. “About a month ago we had contact in a village with them and we got to see exactly how they react to that. If we didn’t have any type of working relationship with these guys, we probably would have incurred injuries, but by working with these guys and making them our straight-up counterparts, they did an amazing job in the village and we received no casualties.
“It makes us feel more confident to know that, because of our training, they will know what to do to keep this country safe. It’s teambuilding. We know if we get into something nasty, the ANA’s got our back because they know their job.”
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