The First Afghan National Army Combined Arms Live Fire
They started with Artillery. The D-30 Howitzers unleashing the hell fire of indirect from five kilmoters away.
This was followed by the progression of a squadron of T-62 Tanks moving their way with the belching smoke of their grinding engines on an even assembly line of order. slowly, they moved across the battlefield while the mounted infantry moved along the nearest flank. Once they got within their proper range, the mortarmen dismounted and set up their positions, continuing the indirect assault on the enemy bunkers downrange. As the tanks continued their movement forward an enormous explosion went off within 100m of the dismounts...two of the mortarmen fell. But our breathlessness was shortlived as we realized that this was all part of the training exercise. Suddenly the M113 Mechanized Ambulance arrived on the scene, evacuated the wounded to the immediate front of the display seating, where the trainers had located the mobile surgical hospital. Once they performed their training triage on the "wounded" the doctors determined that the wounds were too significant to deal with on scene. The Aerial medivac arrived within minutes. HIPP helicopters, one air ambulance and a second for security of the skies, met the M113 ambulance on the ground and took the wounded to safety. meanwhile the attack continued to move forward on the training field. The tanks were eventually reinforced with a pair of that most ominous and threatening looking helicopter of the past thirty years, the HIND-D. As it arrived on the field it surprised even those of us that had expected its arrival.
During the entire exercise, my fellow public affairs officers and I managed what turned out to be a monumental platoon of media from 17 different outlets, twelve of which were Afghan mediabased mostly out of Kabul, but reaching the entire nation. But others were the internationals from Agence France Presse, AP, Reuters, even Xinhua from China. It was unprecendented. Finally, I finished my time escorting the Boston Globe with an interview between Charlie Sennott of the Globe and Lt. Gen. Eikenberry, the Commander of Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan. He is an extraordinary man, who put it all into perspective.
"Five years into this long war, we are winning. but this war is not yet won. five years from now, there will still be challenges, but it will be better."
To witness this level of professionalism on a training battlefield is unprecendented in this theater, but to see it executed by Afghans exclusively gives great hope for a better tomorrow.
The photos on this page were taken by my entire team. The first is mine, but the shot of the HIND and the litter evac are from LT Amanda Straub, our newest team mate and an emerging shooter of some serious talent. the shot of the Press Conference after the exercise was taken by my deputy LT Cathrin Fraker. It is one of the best summaries of what the exercise was, by, of, and for the people of Afghanistan. Cathrin has the eye already. Between these two and Sergeant First Class Tom Roberts, I am spoiled with talent.