Building bridges with the ANA

Sergeant Stewart Plummer is an engineer with 21 Engineer Regiment. He is attached to 1 SCOTS for Operation HERRICK 12, running a Combat Engineer Course for Afghan National Army soldiers. Here he writes about teaching Afghans to build bridges.

The third week of the combat engineer course with the ANA engineers is now over, but it actually feels like a lifetime with them already. We have been teaching them non-equipment bridging. Before we could start we had to quickly ensure that they could safely lift the steel beams, so with a quick lesson on manual handling done to our satisfaction we proceeded with the remainder of the teaching.

Building bridges with whatever is to hand

Building bridges with whatever is to hand

Our first job was to place and fill the Hesco which would form part of the bridge abutments, which to our surprise was done very quickly and to a very high standard. With the Hesco in place the rest of the abutments could be built under the supervision of the instructors. Whilst this was being done the ANA said we weren’t doing it right. When I asked “Why?”  they said it didn’t look exactly like the demonstration bridge next to us. I explained that it wasn’t always going to look the same because it depends on the equipment you can get. I think this satisfied them for the time being.

With the abutments done it was time for them to build the superstructure of the bridge using the ‘I’ beams. We needed to teach them the cantilever method for launching the beams across the gap, which was met with cries of “This is not safe!” from the ANA.

The ANA soldiers had to be convinced this was safe

The ANA soldiers had to be convinced this was safe

I pulled the ANA Sergeant Major to one side and explained that we would never teach his soldiers anything that was unsafe, and this was the method I was taught as a sapper 16 years ago. After a quick word from the Sergeant Major the soldiers decided to give it a go and to their amazement it worked.

With this done it was time to split them into teams and have a timed race which was greeted by some cheers. However trying to explain to them that the empty gap in front of them was actually full of water and they could go in it was a whole different kettle of fish talk. Imagination is not their forte. Both teams completed the build in reasonable times.

The last day of the bridging phase would see our American counterparts come over with some of their modular assault bridges which are very similar to our own.

A bit of American bridging

A bit of American bridging

The ANA seemed to enjoy building the bridge but one soldier did comment that he preferred to build the non-equipment bridge rather than the little foot bridge, which again reassured us that the walls where coming down further and they were enjoying the training.

All that remains for them now is the fourth and final week which is a confirmation week where all their skills will be tested.