News | Aug. 1, 2011

Afghan police broaden horizons through local literacy program

By Cpl Marco Mancha , Regional Command Southwest

HELMAND, Afghanistan (August 1, 2011) — Among the biggest challenges the local government faces as the United States prepares to draw down thousands of troops from Afghanistan is its literacy rate. Only one in 10 recruits who sign up for Afghanistan’s police and army can read and write according to a recent Reuters article. Many of the local residents find something as simple as spelling their own names a challenge.

The Police Advisory Team with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is working with the Higher Education Institute of Karwan to teach Afghan Uniformed Police throughout Nawa how to read and write.

HEIK’s main objective is to support, prepare, and encourage Afghan youngsters to enroll in education to create a new, modern, and enlightened Afghanistan. HEIK’s members are working closely with both the local AUP and other Afghan security forces throughout the country to help combat the literacy crisis.

Philadelphia, N.Y., native Staff Sgt. Robert Powell, who is the staff noncommissioned officer in charge for the PAT, keeps track of the literacy instructors spread across numerous AUP precincts and partnered patrol bases. He said the program is fairly new but showing signs of success with the patrolmen in the area.

“The good news is after speaking with precincts in the area, classes are still going, there’s plenty of communication between the instructor and the [patrolmen]; they have the supplies they need, and they want to do it,” explained Powell.

The ideal goal after months of instruction is to take officers with no literacy level to being able to conduct simple, but important tasks that require them to be able to read and write. The 29-year-old military police officer knows the importance of proper handling and documentation of any evidence related paperwork.

Powell recently had to transfer a detainee and evidence against an alleged criminal to the AUP Headquarters precinct in Nawa. The transfer went smoothly due to the fact the officer receiving the detainee and evidence was literate.

Being able to recognize letters and numbers may also help them in other situations as well, according to one police adviser with the PAT. Cpl. Patrick Winslow of Berlin, Conn., is currently working at a joint patrol base in Nawa and believes being able to read and write will help the patrolmen understand many of the other things associated with being a policeman.

“Something as simple as reading can help them perform their daily tasks – reading a map, checking for proper paperwork at checkpoints, and writing police reports hopefully we can reach that level with this program,” said Winslow.

One patrolman at the AUP Headquarters precinct in the Nawa District Center has a passion for self-improvement inspired by his HEIK literacy instructor and strives to develop his reading and writing skills. Pvt. Mahmad Dawod Qalamyar, who is currently on track to become a noncommisioned officer, practices his reading and writing skills constantly and has even begun to learn English.

Qalamyar, who works as an aid for the District Chief of Police said he always has a busy day, and with that he knows the importance of being literate. He added he wants to be a role model for his fellow patrolmen.

“I like to learn new things and I want my friends to be able to read and write like me,” he said. “As far as learning English, it helps me communicate better with the Marines when a linguist is not available.”

The literacy instructor for the headquarters precinct retired Col. Sar-Bland, says Qalamyar is one of five to 20 students he teaches daily. Instructors like Sar-Bland work with the AUP in Nawa to provide one to three classes a day at the local precincts. The amount of classes and how many patrolmen attend depend on the needs of the patrol bases and precincts.

The AUP must balance their daily tasks – patrolling with Marines, standing watch, and manning vehicle checkpoints – along with taking the literacy classes. For the PAT and HEIK, seeing the patrolmen better themselves and their country is something they both agree can only be followed by positive things.

Editor’s Note: The 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 1, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.