“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”
— Conrad HiltonGetting what you want out of the ANA is a huge part of the job. If you can't get along with your ANA commander, and get him to do things your way, then you aren't going to get much done, because most ANA commanders can't be relied upon to show any initiative to improve and do their jobs well. We all certainly had our ups and downs in the relationships with the different ANA commanders we worked with. Sometimes some of us, including myself, didn't always do things the best way. I definitely don't have any magic formulas for how to work with them, but I did learn a few things. I'll throw this little anecdote out there.
During my last tour to Afghanistan as an embedded trainer with the Afghan National Army (ANA), I conducted training sessions on the M-16 rifle as part of the ANA’s transition from the AK-47 to the M-16. The ANA soldiers had a habit of showing up late for my training sessions. I had tried encouragement, suggestion, and profuse compliments when they were on time as ways to try to get them to show up on time and be more professional, but I had not gotten the results I had hoped for.
Since my efforts to improve the ANA by gently nudging them along were not working to my satisfaction, I decided to try a different approach. The approach I selected was to berate them for being lazy, discourteous, and unprofessional. An Afghan soldier is not unaccustomed to being treated in this manner by an officer, and would expect such a reaction from an ANA officer in a similar situation.
However, the fact of the matter is, it was really not my place as an advisor to the ANA to handle my problems with the ANA soldiers in that manner. I should have known perfectly well that the appropriate and expedient thing to do was to talk to their officer about their behavior and let him deal with it. This approach would not only help develop leadership traits in the ANA officer involved, but would also likely engender much better results. However, on another day when the soldiers again were late for my training, I decided to direct my ire at their officer, Commander B, who happened to be standing right there. While the soldiers could not understand the things I was saying (no interpreter was necessary since Commander B speaks English well), they no doubt caught the gist that I was criticizing their commander.
After the training was completed that day, I thought about the incident. I knew I had overstepped and that my new “approach” to dealing with the ANA of being critical, negative, and worse, criticizing an officer in front of his own men, was counter-productive. Subsequent events proved this to be true, as the ANA became increasingly difficult to deal with, and I lost the trust and confidence of Commander B. I apologized to Commander B and made a special effort afterward to compliment him in front of his men, but I was not able to restore our previously amiable relationship in the limited time we had left together.
In retrospect, I should have remained consistent with the way I had been conducting things…only with more patience and with my expectations in check. Our team had a lot of different personalities, and they all did things different ways; the guys (including myself) who were dictatorial toward their ANA commanders and lost patience with them eventually were unable to accomplish anything at all...to the point where they hardly even worked together. The ETTs who were patient and encouraging with their ANA were able to slowly but surely get more and more out of their ANA. We had one ETT in particular who was always very encouraging and positive with everyone, all the time. I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone, to include the ANA. He, out of everyone I saw, was the best able to get the ANA to work more than they wanted to.