QALAT, Afghanistan The work is dusty and hot, but it's also rewarding for a team of South Carolina National Guard soldiers training the Afghan army here.
The 16 troops from the Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team, based at Forward Operating Base Apache, are helping the Afghans learn the basics of logistics, including how to supply troops in the field with water, food and ammunition.
After less than three months in Afghanistan, the S.C. soldiers have developed strong ties to the Afghans, said team leader Maj. Mike Harmon of Lexington.
"The Afghan army has started to adopt us," Harmon said. "If we don't go see them every day, they'll call us and ask, 'Where's my friend?"'
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Added Maj. Harry Bird of Charleston, executive officer of the team: "The Afghan culture of hospitality is that we're their guests, so they have to provide for our security. We work hand in hand together."
The 16 S.C. troops in Herat are the only team of embedded trainers from the Newberry-based Guard brigade that is working with the Afghan army.
Shortly after the brigade arrived in May, most of the unit's 250 trainers went to work with the Afghan National Police. About an equal number of S.C. soldiers also were reassigned to train police.
The S.C. team at Apache is schooling the Afghan soldiers on logistics -- supporting troops in the field with their needs. In the past, the lack of a strong support network has prevented Afghan soldiers from being able to sustain a fight, let alone chase down an enemy.
"The Afghans are really open to our ideas and want to learn what we teach," said Sgt. John Mahon, of Greenville.
Apache is in southeastern Afghanistan's Zabul province, along the Pakistan border. The area is a hotbed for the Taliban, which the U.S. and NATO-led coalition continue to battle.
However, the S.C. contingent is doing well, said Sgt. Maj. Doug Gilliam of Union.
"Everybody's OK, and everybody's doing fine," Gilliam said. "We're looking forward to doing a good job up here and going home."
Another thing the S.C. soldiers want to do, before packing up in May, is to make the Afghan people's lives just a little better.
The most rewarding experience, Lexington's Harmon said, is providing aid, including food and clothing, to Afghan villages.
"You get involved with the villagers and you find yourself wanting to improve their lives and make this place better before we leave," Harmon said.
The aid bolsters support for the Afghan government, which is supported by the United States.
And it's a good weapon against the enemy, Bird said.
"If you win the hearts and minds of the people, they will run the Taliban out."