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By Staff Sgt. Wayne Woolley, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, Public Affairs

Sgt. 1st Class Darrin Turner, center, New Jersey Army National Guard, and 1st Lt. Ergent Gremi, Albanian Army, observe Artillery Coy 4/2/111th Capital Division, Afghan National Army, as they conduct crew drills on a Russian made D-30 artillery weapon system. The training is part of a nine-week program for both Afghan field artillery Coys, who fall under the 111th Capital Division. (Army National Guard photo/Released)

Think of it as a mini Fort Sill, Okla. in the sands of Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the New Jersey National Guard recently conducted a nine week master gunners' course to train Afghan field artillerymen.

Two dozen senior Afghan officers and non-commissioned officers underwent an intense course modeled after the U.S. Army Field Artillery Officer Basic Course at Fort Still.

Although the training was conducted using Russian-made 122mm cannons, much of the emphasis was on getting the Afghans soldiers used to the powerful weapons for indirect fire, a Western-style fighting technique, said Capt. Thomas Weaver, the National Guard officer who created the course.

Indirect fire – launching the shells high into the air for maximum effect on distant targets – was a new concept for the Afghans, who had been using the guns for direct fire, which requires visible targets.

"This was something new for them," Weaver said. "The cannon itself, they were very familiar with it, but they learned more ways to use it."

Leaving the Afghan National Army with effective tools to handle its own national defense has been the focus of Weaver's unit, a Mentor Advisor Team made up of a dozen New Jersey National Guardsmen and 20 soldiers from the Albanian defense forces.

Capt. Shahmaqsud, Artillery Coy 4/2/111th Capital Division, Afghan National Army, provides direct-fire targeting during a portion of the live fire exercise. (Army National Guard photo/Released)

There are similar teams with military forces from nearly two dozen nations operating across Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to build the military skills of individual Afghan National Army Battalions.

The field artillery training was a true multinational effort, Weaver said.

The Soldiers from New Jersey and Albania worked closely with Portuguese military advisors who are trying to increase the field artillery proficiency across the Afghan Army's 111th Capital vision.

Weaver said the ultimate goal is for the Afghan National Army to learn to marshal the heavy firepower of its field artillery to cover the shortfalls that will come when NATO forces and their airpower leave Afghanistan.

"As we withdraw, artillery will be their most effective tool," Weaver said. "We want to make artillery sustainable by its self."

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Volume 35 Number 4 Staff / Information
(c) 2013 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs