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NATO advisers build Afghan English immersion training center

By Staff Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay , 438th Air Expeditionary Wing

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SHINDAND AIR BASE, Afghanistan (March 23, 2012) — Advisers from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing recently began renovating an existing facility into Shindand Air Base’s first English Language Training Center for the Afghan air force Thunder Lab pilot candidates.

The building, previously used as a morale and welfare center for advisers of the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, required modifications to meet the needs of the students who will be living and working at Shindand’s NATO Training Mission Afghanistan compound.

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Pescador, the next 438th AEW Thunder Lab officer-in-charge, discussed the importance and potential benefits that would come from having a suitable learning center dedicated to SELTC and Thunder Lab operations.

“It is vitally important to mentor the next generation of AAF pilots into the professionalism and parlance of aviation,” said the HH-60H Rescue Hawk pilot. “Students who take pride in the environment that they study in are more motivated in reaching their final goal, which is to become pilots in the AAF.”

Pescador, a former enlisted Navy combat civil engineer (Seabee), along with several Thunder Lab mentors, used his experience to build two classrooms, a multipurpose area and an aviation simulation room.

The amateur construction team faced many challenges while preparing for the build. The shortage of resources such as lumber, nails and personnel to help build in addition to the limited logistical support in the remote region of Shindand made the task difficult, said the advisers.

The efforts of the mentors did not go unnoticed and the sounds of hammers and saws were welcomed by one SELTC instructor.

“It is a very good feeling to know that soon I will have an actual classroom specifically built with me and my students in mind instead of a tent or temporary facility,” said Joe O’Connor, lead instructor for SELTC. “This will make teaching easier since we won’t have to stop class every time an aircraft passes overhead.”

The Thunder Lab recently transitioned from Kabul International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan to align the Thunder Lab, SELTC, and pilot training programs at Shindand with the hopes of becoming Afghanistan’s new pilot training center of excellence.

Although the move will allow the students a more focused study environment in addition to being closer to the aircraft they will potentially fly, it created the need to have an English training center onsite since a higher English aptitude score is required to start pilot training.

“Our transition to Shindand was a phased process to minimize the loss of training time,” said Lt. Col. Daryl Sassaman, 438th AEW Thunder Lab officer-in-charge. “Our mentors traveled down first to create classrooms, prepare living accommodations and office space, and set up the basic infrastructure required to run all aspects of the Thunder Lab and SELTC programs thus ensuring a seamless transition between locations.”

The first 26 AAF lieutenants making the transition to Shindand will travel over a three-week period on Afghan Cessna 208 Super Caravan aircraft.

“This approach is allowing us to be fully operational as the flights of students arrive,” said Sassaman.

The Thunder Lab facility will house an average of 75 to 100 students once it is fully operational.

“It’s truly amazing to see what the advisers have accomplished so far. I am really looking forward to start teaching in my new classroom and I am very appreciative to the advisers,” said O’Connor.