KABUL, Afghanistan –
As the train, advise and assist missions continue in Afghanistan, the Afghan Air Force is taking the lead from Coalition in supporting ground troops through air power.
Maintenance air advisors from Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air (TAAC-Air), 440th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, are working side-by-side with their AAF counterparts to develop a professional, capable and sustainable air force.
At the beginning of 2014, the AAF received C-130H models in which currently four crews are trained and in full mission capable status.
“Providing a platform like the C-130H to the AAF increases their capacity for airlift, casualty evacuation, and troop transport,” said Maj. Elbert Waters, 440th AEAS commander. “This capacity allows Afghanistan to combat their war on their own terms. This strategic advantage could never be realized without the hard work of these air advisors.”
For the past six months, maintenance air advisors have worked with their AAF counterparts becoming trained and qualified as level three maintainers. On Jan. 11, 2017, a group of 44 AAF C-130H maintainers were the first in-country trained to graduate and receive their level three certification.
The recent graduates were trained by Total Force Airmen from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio and Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., that specialize in various maintenance Air Force Specialty Codes from; engine and propulsion, hydraulics, fuel, electrical and environmental, avionics, and crew chief specialist.
“The AAF is trained in accordance with their Career Field Education and Training Program and progress from zero level to three level, then from three to two, and then two to one,” explained Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Pratt, 440th AEAS C-130 maintenance team lead. “It varies on the amount of training time, but usually a one year progression in each step due to the language barrier and the use of interpreters.”
Both enlisted and officer Afghan maintainers who score higher than a 55 on an English examination have the opportunity to attend the Defense Language Institute in the United States. They then move forward to their respective career field specialty technical training in various parts of the U.S. This helps AAF maintenance crews get a better understanding of technical and mechanical terms that do not translate well with the use of interpreters, explained Pratt.
Currently, maintenance on the AAF C-130H is accomplished by contractors, while TAAC-Air advisors teach both in a classroom and hands-on setting.
“The maintenance that keeps the C-130s in the air is heavily dependent on (Contractor Logistic Support) at this time, and this will transition to being heavily AAF only in the next five to ten years,” said Waters. “The maintenance training occurring right now is building the force of qualified technicians that will take the lead as CLS decreases.”
Advisors continue to work toward an end state of AAF maintenance becoming self-sufficient. Plans are currently in the works for a train-the-trainer program, which will have qualified AAF maintainers teaching classes.
“Building a maintainer is a long process. The increased capabilities will not be seen or realized for several more years,” said Waters. “The AAF has had a jump in capabilities due to the lift missions that are being executed daily.”
Before any training takes place, advisors are taught to build a trusting relationship with their AAF counterparts. The group of Total Force Airmen worked to build a connection that breaks the communication barrier.
Although only few of the AAF maintainers speak English, crews can often be seen laughing and telling jokes with advisors during down time. However, when training takes place focus is then returned to learning their craft.
“These students are very motivated and have a strong desire to contribute to their country,” said Tech. Sgt. Toron Bordain, 440th AEAS C-130 maintenance advisor. “It was a great experience working with the AAF, and we were able to build strong and lasting bonds.”
The time for the Youngstown ARS and Dobbins ARB advisors is coming to an end, but new teams from the Air National Guard are now in place to ensure training continues.
Training of aircraft maintainers is just one facet that helps the AAF continue to grow and lead operations in their country.
In the short time the AAF has had the C-130H in inventory, the airframe has proven to be a major asset to the Afghan’s mission success. As of 2016, the AAF C-130H crews flew more than 1,065 sorties and transported more than 29,900 passengers and 880,000 metric tons of cargo, according to TAAC-Air operation advisors.
“We are making a difference every day, and the gains that have been made are historic,” said Waters. “The members of the AAF are people that take great risks for their country…they eagerly want to learn to make their force stronger.”