Photo Information

Marine Lt. Geoffrey Marshall, the logistics officer with the Regional Corps Battle School, talks with an Afghan National Army soldier with the Regional Corps Training Center here during an Eid al-Fitr celebration. The beginning of Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month observed by Muslims around the world. “It takes a long time to develop effective relationships with your counterparts,” said Maj. Aron M. Axe, the RCBS operations officer. “You have to sit down and invest time with your counterparts to understand them and allow them to understand you.”

Photo by Lance Cpl. Mel Johnson

Coalition forces celebrate Eid with Afghan forces

13 Aug 2013 | Lance Cpl. Mel Johnson

 The relationship between Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams and the Afghan National Security Forces often goes beyond just a job. For the Marines and British soldiers with the Regional Corps Battle School, it’s about building rapport and fostering a lasting relationship with the ANSF as they take the lead for the security of Afghanistan.

As Ramadan drew to an end, Afghan National Army soldiers with the Regional Combat Training Center invited the service members of RCBS to attend their celebration of Eid al-Fitr Aug 8.

Eid al-Fitr, or Feast of Breaking the Fast, is a three-day Islamic holiday marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month which is observed by Muslims around the world. Afghans use the feast as a time to reflect and devote themselves to God.

Afghan National Army Col. Shahwali Khan, the commanding officer of the RCTC, welcomed the coalition troops with a quick prayer and a few short words before the meal began.

According to wing Cmdr. James Penelhum, the RCBS officer in charge, this was the first time for many of the service members to share an Eid meal with their Afghan counterparts, which he said is important to building trust with them.

“Being able to celebrate Eid with them was a big honor,” said Penelhum. “It’s one of the holiest days on the Islamic calendar, and for them to invite us to celebrate alongside them, it reflects the more-than-close relationship we’ve developed.”

As the meal concluded, the conversation between the ANA soldiers and the Marines turned to several topics, including comparisons to Western holidays and celebrations such as Thanksgiving.

“To have a social occasion was interesting,” said Penelhum, a native of Bodmin, England. “Usually, we’re just advising and training, but to sit down and speak with them about their families and traditions definitely makes a big statement that we enjoy their company and they enjoy ours.”

Though the Eid celebration lasted for a few more days, the service members of the RCBS were looking forward to continuing the training and providing the soldiers with advance combat skills.
Marine Maj. Aron M. Axe, the operations officer with RCBS, said events like Eid help the unit to develop effective relationships.

“You don’t just walk in and talk business overnight, you have to sit down and invest time with your counterparts, making you understand one another,” said Axe. “Particularly in Afghanistan, there has to be a trust built there because the concepts we put forward are complex and for them to trust that these concepts are going to be successful, they have to trust in us and that doesn’t happen over night.” 

Axe said trust is built through these celebrations because Afghans see coalition forces’ willingness to understand and appreciate their culture, which in turn, helps to instill institutional change. 
The ultimate goal of the RCBS is to develop a cadre of Afghan instructors to guarantee existing training institutions are sustainable once coalition forces leave.

“Institution building and sustainment for the Regional Combat Training Center is the end game,” said Axe. “This can only be accomplished through effective relationships and trust with our Afghan counterparts.”

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