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5RAR in Afghanistan

 

Mentoring Task Force 2, Battle Group Tiger Australian Infantryman's Combat Badge
033 Alpha Mentoring Team
Map of Afghanistan

O33A comprises of soldiers predominantly from 5RAR with others from 7RAR, 8/12 Mdm Regt, 1 CSR and 1CER lead by CAPT Chris Bennett, and on deployment, the Team Sergeant Major WO2 Leslie Hapgood.

The majority of the team arrived at PB RAZAQ, in DEH RAWOODs CHOWTU Valley, in late October Patrol base at Razaq 2011 to take up from the efforts of our predecessors from the 6RAR Battle Group where, the team JFO (Joint Fires Officer) element was already positioned with BDR Shaun O’Connor and GNR Joel Tramacchi. During our time to date, our job has been to mentor an ANA (Afghan National Army) company that had been mentored previously not only by Australians but also the Dutch and French which has provided a variety of interesting challenges to say the least.


The AO (Area Operations) occupied by O33A is considerable in size for the team and extends some 17km as the crow flies with an AI that receives regular attention for another 3-5km in either direction. O33A has established and maintained a working relationship with the USSF Green Berets that has been mutually beneficial and provided the ability to further enhance security and foster a positive relationship with the Afghan people in a small place called HESAR and the surrounding villages. On arrival at PB RAZAQ, 6RAR had identified the need to provide a mentoring capability on a semipermanent basis to HESAR. This village was occupied by an ANA platoon with poor facilities and involved no patrolling by them unless pushed by the Australian mentors. Since the increased presence of mentors has occurred the compound occupied by the ANA has seen joint works to provide development in accommodation, amenities and more importantly defences with PTE Charles “Cell” Ellery taking a leading role in gaining ANA involvement. The ANA in this location are now responsible for patrolling and maintaining the security of the villages for a four kilometre radius partnered or unpartnered in security operations.

With the ANA some of the challenges initially encountered, and in some cases still remaining, included a very centralized system of command, a lack of response to planning patrols and tasks, logistical and maintenance issues, poor attitude toward training and assisting with tasks for their own benefit. Over time the team has made progress albeit slowly and through the mentoring of the ANA CSM, logistics has improved and practical training has continued with Australians of ALL ranks providing the instruction.

By keeping the Australian mentors and force protection on support tasks to the ANA this has forced them to plan and not to over rely on the mentors; subsequently they have commenced more planning for themselves and have proven they can easily deploy at short notice and conduct themselves satisfactorily.
Pte Ellery and the ANAWhile the ANA are a “mixed bag” they have a lot of competent individuals who are willing to learn or improve their situation, the most important thing has been to be mindful that it doesn’t have to be our solution that we can only advise and they must ultimately take responsibility.

033A has been involved in areas outside of the immediate AO in particular during Op AZADAWELL in the TAGAW Valley as part of an effort to undermine the insurgents and re-establish a lasting Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) and Coalition Force (CF) presence. This has been further exploited through the Combat Logistics Patrol conducted with the ANA via TAGAW Valley to FB Tinsley in CHAR CHINEH and was achieved with relative ease through the improved security provided as a result of Op AZADAWELL and the increased presence of the Afghan Local Police; an initiative to have the villagers taking responsibility for their own security but heavily supported through ANSF and CF presence. The ALP (Afghan Local Police) have proven to be a ready and willing resource of manpower willing to assist O33A at any time.

While no kinetic actions have occurred against O33A to date, the use of the allocated engineer detachment, lead by LCPL Rick Youll of 1CER (1 Combat Engineers Regiment), has allowed a number of finds to have been made taking IED components, main charges and ammunition “off the street” thereby reducing the insurgent ability to readily target ANSF and CF in the AO.

US Army Blackhawk helicoptersOne area of the team that receives a regular work out is the RAP. The team is fortunate to have an effective and efficient Advanced Medical Assistant in CPL James Kirkpatrick from 1CSR, who has re-arranged and improved on the capabilities and is ably supported by a number of competent Combat First Aiders including PTEs Tony Crook and Brock Thompson. The injuries suffered by Local Nationals that have rolled through the RAP are anywhere from Motor Vehicle Accidents and broken limbs to drug addictions, coughs and colds; resulting in anything from a free helicopter ride to the Role 2 medical facility at Multi National Base-Tarin Khot (MNB-TK) or a “nothing I can do for you”. Either way the Afghans are grateful for whatever we can do.

Training has remained as a priority when time permits to improve on individual and collective soldier skills as well as junior leader development with soldiers being in a position to qualify and fire natures of ammunition not as readily available in Australia. To say we are doing it hard would be incorrect. The Chopperfacilities provided are excellent and the team has been well supported by the HQ and logistical elements throughout the Combat Team and Task Force. The food is exceptional and is a credit, in this environment, to the members of the AACC (Australian Army Catering Corp) who have
been posted to this location; showers are now a regular occurrence and for the soldier of today internet and regular use of welfare phone a bonus. To the credit of the young soldiers they are always willing to get away and back to the basics at HESAR where the facilities remain for the Australians ... spartan.

One member of the 6RAR team that had remained was “Chopper”. Chopper is an Afghan dog with missing ears and owns the valley or more rightly two valleys. Chopper has accompanied the team in the CHOWTU and TAGAW Valleys walking the whole distance for patrols and still fighting off other dogs’ en-route, swimming rivers and literally climbing mountains to get there. Unfortunately Chopper won’t be going back to Australia but has found a new home with the USSF. The team retains that iconic sense of larrikinism expected from the ANZAC and still maintains high morale although looking forward to RTA and spending time with loved ones in bars, strip joints and places of ill repute; alternately at home.

 

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