Jim Wilhite ::
With the publication of my book in 2010, the release of the documentary in 2015 and numerous speaking engagements, I have had the privilege and opportunity to share the story of the building of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan. Modeled on the United States Military Academy at West Point, NMAA has steadily grown to become the "Crown Jewel of Afghanistan."
The last few years, the most frequently asked questions I get are:
"So how is NMAA doing? Is it still functioning?"
Recently, I corresponded by email with a young man who I had helped become the first student from Afghanistan to graduate from West Point. He provided me with a current picture of NMAA at the start of 2017.
In 2005, there were 352 applicants and 115 were admitted as cadets. Today the academy is assessing more than 4,000 applicants for 600 slots annually. Right now there are 1,892 cadets enrolled at NMAA.
The academy currently offers the following seven majors: Civil Engineering, General Engineering, Language and Culture, Military and Strategic History, Management and Leadership, Political Science and Computer Science. Upon graduation cadets are assigned through a combination of request and lottery to one of seven branches: Infantry, Artillery, Armor, Engineering, Logistics, Signals, Finance.
The admission of women to NMAA in 2009 signaled a significant achievement for the leadership of Afghanistan. There are currently 27 female cadets enrolled at the academy with 10 applications last November and 12 that graduated in 2016. These officers were assigned to Engineering, Finance, Logistics and Signals.
The National Military Academy of Afghanistan is alive and well and growing as one of the largest officer producing institutions in the country. The majority of platoon leaders and company commanders are graduates of NMAA. In 2015 after the Kunduz Province had fallen into the hands of the Taliban, a NMAA company commander played an important role in recapturing the province and replaced the flag of Afghanistan over the governor's office.
There are still tensions though. Because the expectations are very high, the leadership quality of NMAA graduates is under close scrutiny. And while graduates share common experiences and bonds of friendship, the ethnic friction within the culture is very strong which has its effects on every individual including some forms of discrimination and negative propaganda.
But my young friend summarized the sentiments of many of the Afghans I was proud to call friends and peers: "My father also sends his regards to you and thanks you for your hard work to establish and assist NMAA and the Afghan people."
Though there are very real challenges for the leadership in Afghanistan, the founding of NMAA is a good news story that continues to grow in stature for a positive future for the country.
Trainers marching outside NMAA, 2005.