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Afghan officer travels long road to complete U.S. Army Ranger School

By Lt. j.g. Charity Edgar, Resolute Support Headquarters

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Feb. 1, 2016 — KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 1, 2016) With help from the Security Assistance Office-Afghanistan, 1st Lt. Mohammad Yarghal became the fourth member of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to earn the title of Ranger.

The 27-year-old Afghan soldier recently returned to Afghanistan following a year of training in the United States. He first attended the four-month American Language Course at the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio. Then, he completed the 17-week Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course followed by a two-week Ranger Training Assessment Course, two months at Ranger School and three weeks of Basic Airborne Course, all at Fort Benning, Ga.

Yarghal, who is from Khost province, was inspired to join the Afghan National Army at a young age by a general who hailed from his village. In high school, he enacted his plan to serve his country and prepared to apply for the National Military Academy of Afghanistan.

“I read a lot of books, and did PT [physical training] all the time,” explained Yarghal. “In my village, I have a place where I would run, usually one or two hours a day, and the locals call it by my name.”

Yarghal was accepted into the prestigious four-year academy, which is structured similarly to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Upon graduation in 2012, he attended infantry school in Afghanistan for three months.

“My father was a doctor for the Mujahedeen,” said Yarghal. “He told me if I wanted to be a good officer and leader, I needed to do infantry. Massoud [Afghan political and military leader] was an infantry commander; so I chose that.”

A fellow soldier told Yarghal about a four-month infantry course in the United States that he could attend, along with a school where he could become a paratrooper, a skill he believes is important for all armies.

“My goal in the Afghan National Army was to become a leader who can keep my soldiers strong,” said Yarghal. “I wanted to be the best I could be.”

Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan’s Security Assistance Office-Afghanistan stepped in to make the lieutenant’s dream a reality.

“After a candidate for training in the U.S. is identified, they take the American Language Course Placement Test, which is administered by the Afghan Foreign Language Institute,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Umar M. Khan, Chief, Professional Military Education and Training Programs Branch, SAO-A, who is deployed out of Maxwell Air Force Base. “The Training Branch receives the results of the ALCPT; if the candidate scores above a certain level on that exam, then SAO-A Training Branch administers the English Comprehension Level test.”

Yarghal passed the tests, his request was approved and after SAO-A coordinated travel, he was on his way to the United States.

Following the completion of the advanced English language course, Yarghal traveled from Texas to Georgia and enrolled in the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course. It was there that he heard his American peers discussing their desire to attend Ranger School, one of the toughest training courses for U.S. soldiers. He immediately volunteered and spent any extra time reading the Army Ranger Handbook, and pushing himself through extra physical training.

It paid off. He passed the Ranger Training Assessment Course, qualifying him to attend Ranger School.

“I was very tired after two weeks of RTAC, but it prepared me for Ranger School, and Ranger School is not easy,” reflected Yarghal.

The intensive leadership course consists of eight weeks of intense physical and mental training. There are three distinct phases of Ranger School called Benning, Mountain and Florida.

Yarghal said that the support of his squad proved instrumental in his success throughout the difficult course.

“The other classmates supported me and I supported them. It is teamwork,” said Yarghal. “They told me ‘You will be great in your Army.’”

“Yarghal is a fantastic soldier, man and teammate,” said 1st Lt. Patrick Diehl, who was in a squad with Yarghal at Ranger School. “We come from very different cultures and live completely different lives but that didn't stop us from bonding through the hardships of Ranger School and working together. We laughed, sweat, bled and worked together to earn our tabs and I wouldn't have wanted anyone else in my squad.”

Less than 50 percent of students who enroll in Ranger School graduate. During the grueling course, Yarghal did not “recycle,” a process where students must repeat a phase in order to continue with the training, and in Oct. 2015, Yarghal graduated from Ranger School.

“Maj. Gen. [Austin] Miller [Commander, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence] had inspired me, and told me he thought I could complete the course,” said Yarghal. “I didn’t want to let him down, or all the other people who helped me get here.”

Miller had the honor of pinning on Yarghal’s Ranger tab.

"We are very proud of Lt. Yarghal not only for his successes in our course, but his very sincere desire to be as well trained as possible so that he is able to contribute to the security and well-being of Afghanistan," said Miller.

Looking back, Yarghal says it was all worth it.

“I gained three important things from Ranger school: military leadership, time management and teamwork,” said Yarghal. “If I am leading 40 to 60 soldiers, I know we can destroy the enemy. If your soldiers do not trust your abilities, you won’t be able to do anything.”

Khan has no doubt that Afghanistan’s newest Ranger will be an effective leader.

“Leadership is the key to success for any military organization—that is its greatest asset, and it is what makes it strong. Make no mistake—the ANA is stronger because of Lt. Yarghal’s drive, determination and skills as a combat leader,” said Khan.

Following his graduation from Ranger School, Yarghal went on to successfully complete the Basic Airborne Course. Since his return to Afghanistan, Yarghal has been serving at the Ministry of Defense Headquarters Security Support Brigade.

“I was not completely confident about leading soldiers on a battlefield until Ranger School. Now I want to do Special Forces,” said Yarghal. “I am not worried anymore; I know I am a good leader and soldier for Afghanistan.”