Central Workshop is the National-level depot maintenance and production facility for the Afghan National Army. Visiting there is like stepping into a Dickens novel…if Dickens was writing about counter-insurgency operations. Want your AK-47 barrel re-blued and a new butt-stock created from scratch? Central Workshop’s the place. Need to smelt and cast a bunch of new insignia? Likewise. Need to repair an artillery piece with a blowtorch and sledgehammer? Definitely the Central Workshop. Need to install a new power supply in an HF radio base station or a new encryption board in a VHF hand-held? Um, not so much…
At least that was the case before NTM-A/CSTC-A‘s Logistics Training and Advisory Group (LTAG) arrived. The LTAG has a team of 10 US service members assigned to advise the 1100+ soldiers of the Central Workshop. These advisers live at Camp Eggers, but work “outside the wire” alongside Afghans, almost every single day. They have raised the capability and capacity of the entire Central Workshop…facilities and engineering, production control, quality assurance, test equipment, the weapons shops, the machine shop, and on and on and on…
But dearest to my heart is LTAG’s support to the Central Workshop Communications Division. LTAG advisers have developed the environment the Comm Division needs to succeed: facility upgrades, spare parts, and test equipment coming soon. They’ve also developed the soldiers the Division needs to succeed. As I mentioned in a previous post, NTM-A basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others, bringing the ANA one small step closer to being able to sustain itself.
But according to SMSgt Schell, the Senior Enlisted member of the US Adviser team, the toughest part of the job isn’t the technical challenges. Nor is it the attitude of the Afghans…Central Workshop soldiers are–almost without exception–motivated and eager to learn. The toughest part is convincing other Coalition members of the Workshop’s potential…”selling hope”, as SMSgt Schell puts it. A great example is the Vehicle Maintenance Division. Right now, the Division is largely without work, because the Coalition has put a “do contract” in place (where the contractor does the mission for the Afghans) instead of a “teach contract” (where the contractor teaches the Afghans how to do the mission). Certainly, vehicle maintenance is tough, even within the US military. Imagine it within a country at war, with a barely-functional supply system and a frighteningly illiterate workforce. But Central Workshop soldiers understand maintenance discipline and have a long, proud history of finding a way to overcome any maintenance challenge. There’s a hand-cranked winch in the machine shop, for example, that can lift a little over 3 tons. It was made, from scratch, 130 years ago. And it still works flawlessly. There’s no doubt the Central Workshop has a LONG way to go. But there’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll get there.
Bottom line: The Afghans have a phrase that sums up the effort nicely:
Drop drop becomes a river.
Five instructor-qualified radio maintainers is just a drop. And the outlines of a “Vo-tech”-style vehicle maintenance program is just a drop. But with the help of motivated LTAG advisers, there’s a river coming, fast.