Posts Tagged ‘Central Workshop’

Vehicle Division

SMSgt Schell at the Central Workshop Vehicle Division


A well-maintained hand-cranked winch, 130 years old

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.

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"I receive the certificate...

...for Afghanistan!"*

Unsurprisingly, there are  a BUNCH of challenges regarding education in Afghanistan.  But there’s a thirst for knowledge and education here that’s really cool.  You can see it in numbers like this:  “Educational access [at what passes for secondary education here] – 600,000 applicants for 20,000 seats.”  It’s truly tragic there are only 20,000 seats available.  But the number of applicants is awesome!

You can also see it in the pride Afghans get when they receive the graduation certificate from a course, turn to face their peers, and shout “For Afghanistan!”  Graduations are a Really Big Deal in the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP); being able to attend graduation ceremonies as a representative of the Coalition is perhaps the most rewarding part of my job.

My first was a radio maintenance class, taught under an Afghan contract and paid for by US taxpayers through CSTC-A.  Until they started class, seven weeks before the ceremony, these soldiers had NEVER seen a Phillips screwdriver or electrical tape.  But by the end, they could make basic repairs, even including soldering new encryption circuits into the radios and loading encryption keys.  This is a neat technically, of course.  But it’s HUGE operationally, because these encryption cards keep insurgents from being able to listen in on ANA conversations using captured radios.  The graduates’ new skills will literally keep other soldiers alive.

Another was an opportunity to congratulate the graduates of a computer tech support class.  It was pretty basic stuff to be sure…I’m certain my 14-year old could provide better tech support.  But what was especially striking was that it was a 4-month class, and every graduate’s Boss valued the education so much he or she was willing to send them away from the fight and to a class for that long.  As you’d expect, there aren’t many people with computer skills in Afghanistan.  But those that have them can make a HUGE impact.

Perhaps the most amazing graduation so far though has been the radio maintenance instructor course, at the ANA Central Workshop.  Central Workshop is this SERIOUSLY steampunk maintenance warren, with a long proud history of sledgehammer-style maintenance (stuff like smelting ANA emblems and refurbishing AK-47s), but a short and slightly embarrassing history of oscilloscope-style maintenance.  Until the other day.  We basically took the five best radio maintainers in the ANA and trained them up even more…they’re now officially certified to train others.  Which is HUGE, for the individuals themselves, for the Central Workshop, for the ANA, and for Afghanistan.  We made quite the big deal out of it…80+ people there to recognize these five soldiers.  Which is entirely appropriate recognition for five soldiers who represent the future of the Afghan National Army–an Army that can train and sustain itself.

Education is EXTREMELY precious and desirable here.  Sometimes, finding that knowledge is surprisingly easy (the Afghans I’ve dealt with have–almost without exception–been extremely quick to pick up on new concepts).  And sometimes it’s almost unbelievably difficult.  But even then, they’ll move mountains to get it.

Bottom line:  The Afghans have a phrase that elegantly describes the whole situation:

We will find the lost diamond, whether on top or buried under the ground.

* Photos by SMSgt Brett Kolasch, USAF

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