LILONGWE (Dvids) – Soldiers from the Malawian Defense Force gathered in excitement and celebration when they completed a small arms maintenance program management course taught by Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Eager to tell their family and friends, they rushed to take pictures with their admired course instructors.
“I remembered the students being thrilled and shouting, ‘The United States Army, the best army in the world, is here teaching us,’” said 1st Lt. Carlisle E. Lane, the maintenance control officer for 123rd Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd BCT, 1st AD, and the lead instructor for the small arms maintenance program management course.
Lane was part of a Military-to Military Traveling Contact Team, often referred to as M2M TCT, with Sgt. Miguel A. Nuñez, a small arms repairer for 123rd BSB, 3rd BCT, 1st AD. They deployed to Lilongwe, Malawi, June 20-26 to train soldiers from the Malawian Defense Force. Located in southeast Africa, the country borders Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique and has a population of about 16 million.
The M2M TCT conducted a small arms maintenance program management course that not only taught the MDF soldiers basic maintenance, but also strengthened their armament units as a whole.
“The curriculum educated the Malawian soldiers on the foundation of small arms maintenance principles, including testing serviceability of weapons, general maintenance, managing repairable weapon parts, weapons familiarization, range safety operations, and planning inspections with company leadership,” Lane said.
Traveling in small groups of two as an M2M TCT allowed for more intimate training and a great opportunity for relationship building, which was crucial to the mission.
“This mission allowed us to build great repertoire with the MDF. This group is the first generation of armorers and maintainers for the MDF,” Lane said. “They are the foundation for the MDF’s maintenance procedures for weapons, cannons, and all things related to smalls arms maintenance.”
Not only were Lane and Nuñez able to build a great relationship with the Malawians, but they also helped the Malawians build a better relationship among themselves.
“Each of the soldiers came from different tribes and units in Malawi and did not acquire an infrastructure to communicate amongst each other,” Lane said. “So we laid out the foundation for them to be able to communicate and help each other once we left. That was a great benefit to them because some units had more exposure to a variety of weapon systems than others.”
Amid relationship building, the main mission was in full swing: small arms maintenance and how to build the foundation for the MDF armament units.
“We were able to compare how we do maintenance and how they do maintenance. There wasn’t any command emphasis on preventative maintenance checks and services and making sure they are taking care of their weapons,” Lane said. “We taught them how they can go about respectfully requesting a time to inspect their arms rooms and making sure their weapons are being maintained.”
“I gave them a variety of circumstances, both the good and the bad, and what can happen if you don’t conduct maintenance. With weapon systems like mortars, if you don’t service them, they can explode,” Nuñez said.
Safety procedures and proper weapons handling was another portion of the course that Lane and Nuñez were passionate about sharing.
“Another large component of the class focused on safety and the proper handling of weapons. The U.S. Army has programs in place to ensure safety: Clearing as you get on and off the range, clear before you receive a weapon,” Lane said. “Those are things they had not considered. We encouraged the utilization of range safety officers and rules to follow while on the range and showed them how to implement it.”
Since educational lectures can become redundant after a few days, Lane decided to create a more engaging environment and allowed for the MDF soldiers to discuss maintenance topics among themselves for a more practical learning style.
“Every morning we allowed time for casual educational discussions. There were a few seasoned soldiers that were able to share knowledge with the younger, less experienced soldiers on different weapon systems,” Lane said.
Soldiers from the MDF Marine Corps and Air Force were also in the class. During the morning discussions, it gave them an opportunity to share with each other what their military background had taught them.
“There was only one MDF noncommissioned officer with artillery experience, so he was able to share his artillery knowledge with the class,” Lane said. “The other students would always take notes during the morning discussions.”
They were also able to discuss proper maintenance based on their fiscal budgeting. Lane and Nuñez taught them how to repair weapons parts, but also to know when to retire unfit weapon systems that could potentially endanger the operator.
“Mornings were all about knowledge sharing. We explained to them that knowledge is power; the more you know, the better you are,” Nuñez said. “We had a ‘train the trainer’ session with them.”
“We were able to teach them how to teach their soldiers upon returning to their units,” Lane said. “Now they can all take this program back to their units and help develop their units.”
At the end of the week the students received their certificates of completion in Small Arms Maintenance. On behalf of the U.S. Army, coins were also handed out to select students who provided knowledge throughout the course as discussion leads, those who consistently assisted their classmates, and those who were highly engaged and wanted to learn more.
Pictures were taken, and their accomplishment honored.
“All the students were happy. It was a big achievement for them,” Nuñez said.
The students and leadership, including MDF 1st Lt. Patrick Banda, the officer who led and managed the program, expressed their satisfaction with the level of professionalism and knowledge Lane and Nuñez acquired.
Lane and Nuñez had nothing but positive memories to share and look forward to the opportunity of going back for on-going training.
“The Malawians were some of the friendliest and courteous people we have ever met,” Lane said. “They helped us whenever we needed anything. We are more than glad that we were able to help them in return.”