HEIDELBERG, Germany — U.S. Army Europe’s top enlisted soldier has been chosen to advise the general overseeing an expanded effort to train Afghan security forces.

Command Sgt. Maj. Ralph Beam leaves USAREUR next week for Camp Eggers, Afghanistan, to be command sergeant major for the NATO Training Mission. He’ll advise Lt. Gen. William Caldwell on enlisted matters and, he said, try to ensure proficient training for the Afghans.

Beam, 51, who has been command sergeant major for V Corps, then, USAREUR, for nearly five years, said he decided to apply for the job because that’s where the action is now.

"Just the challenge of it, the challenge of being part of something I think is going to be really good," he said. "It’s an important job."

Beam’s new assignment will put him at the top of an effort to increase the size of the Afghan army from its current 102,400 soldiers to 171,600 by October 2011. Afghan police forces, which now number 96,800, would increase to 109,000 this year, and American officials hope to further increase that to 134,000 by the following year, Caldwell said earlier this month.

The increase in the number of trained Afghan forces would provide more security in time for President Barack Obama’s deadline for U.S. combat forces to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan.

"What I’m there for is to transition myself and everybody else out of a job," Beam said, "and bring everybody on my watch home."

Beam said that despite the language barriers, high Afghan illiteracy rates and a culture of what Americans call "corruption" — but which Beam said is just how they do business in some countries — he expects the training will succeed, providing Afghanistan with its own capable security forces.

"They’re not going to be as good as we are, but they’ll be good enough," he said.

"We taught a lot of Shia soldiers to be soldiers, and a lot of them couldn’t read, either," said Beam, who deployed to Iraq in 2006 with V Corps.

"What you have to keep in mind, when you go to Iraq you see what six years of effort has produced. They’ve got control. They’re running their own country. The model is there."

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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