Thursday, January 21, 2010

Best of the best ...

I’ve flown on UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters all over Afghanistan but never on a Russian Mi-17. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but the clean, large and roomy interior wasn’t exactly what I had pictured.

Today, I was assigned to cover Lt. Gen. William Caldwell’s visit to the Afghan National Army commandos at Camp Morehead. The purpose of our visit was to see the newest class of commandos graduate – this would be the 7th Kandak (the Afghan equivalent of a company) to graduate since the first class on July 28, 2007 – as well as see an awards presentation.

A large group of commando’s, and one in particular, had helped put down the Taliban attack in Kabul on Monday. These commando’s had graduated on Dec. 31, 2009, and just over two weeks later, they did exactly what they were trained to do – kick some ass.

After the main group of 929 trainees graduated, trading in their green and black berets for those of the elite red that identify them as commando, the Afghan National Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, called forth 1st Lt. Mumtaz from the 6th Kandak to be recognized.

Looking like, as my co-worker Petty Officer 2nd Class Hall said, an Afghan version of Jean Claude-Van Dam, Lieutenant Mumtaz was quiet and humble as he accepted his decoration – a first class Barya, similar to an U.S. achievement medal. During the multiple-pronged strategy that made up Monday’s complex attack on the capital, Lieutenant Mumtaz shot and killed a suicide bomber before he could detonate his vest.

During my short time in Kabul, I have witnessed other Afghan security forces graduations and training, and I can say that without a doubt, these forces displayed a strength and discipline I had yet to see. Their 12-week training course is modeled after the U.S. Army Ranger training; in fact, Army Rangers deploy and embed with the commando trainees, living and working with them, instilling their values of discipline and endurance. I spoke with the Task Force Morehead commander and several trainers and they all had the same thing to say – these commando’s are the best of the best.

It was clear to see, from the pride on the faces of the graduates, and the way that they responded to Monday’s attack, that the Rangers training had paid off, and as the commando forces continue to grow, it can mean nothing but good things for the future of Afghanistan.

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