Legion Academy gives Afghans a crash course in fighting war

At Forward Operating Base Ramrod in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province, the U.S. Army's Legion Academy provides a two-week training course for Afghan security forces.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, February 8, 2010; 6:25 PM

FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMROD -- Staff Sgt. Jacob Moss surveyed the desolate expanse of dust, razor wire and dirt-filled Hesco barriers, and proclaimed: "This is my baby."

Moss is a former bull rider who dreams of opening a microbrewery in Colorado when he leaves the Army. But for now, he is building a school for those who will fight long after he has left Afghanistan. Known as the Legion Academy, this training course established by the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Kandahar province gives Afghan soldiers, police and intelligence officers a two-week crash course in the basics of fighting a war.

"Doing this kind of stuff isn't like riding a bike. A lot of it is muscle memory, repetitive action and keeping it in your head," Moss said. "I don't know how thorough these guys' training is. We just bring them back to the beginning a bit."

Moss already has a house built of Hescos for the students to practice clearing a room and close-quarters shooting. A new firing range is coming, as well as a stretch of road, to be fashioned with culverts and dummy bombs, to practice against Afghanistan's most common weapon.

By late January, Moss was on his third course, this time with 22 students. They have been pulled off patrols and highway checkpoints for the training and will go back out to work with members of Moss's battalion in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province. The U.S. military is rushing headlong to train and equip tens of thousands of new members of the Afghan security forces, and the grass-roots Legion Academy has attracted the interest of commanders and other units in Afghanistan.

"I've had generals come out. It's blown up; it's an incredible thing," Moss said.

The Afghan soldiers and police officers here said they welcome such instruction, and many acknowledge that they have a long way to go.

"The Afghan National Army cannot fight the terrorists alone. This is not an Afghan issue alone; this is international terrorism," said Lt. Col. Mohammed Nasr, who works in the neighboring Zari district. "We are not yet able to win the war on terror in Afghanistan."

That makes such programs, however small, an urgent priority for the U.S. military.

"Nobody else in Afghanistan has thought of this. It's pretty shocking," said Capt. Zachary Knoebel. "Ultimately, the whole reason we're here in this country is to train the Afghan forces so eventually they can take over security and provide security for their own people."

"We believe that, ultimately, victory lies in programs like this," he said.

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