News: Advisers step back as Afghan air force capabilities expand
Story by Staff Sgt. Richard Andrade
KABUL, Afghanistan – The capabilities of the Afghan air force are expanding with an early-morning delivery of Mi-17 V5 transport helicopters at the Kabul International Airport, Oct. 22, 2013.
NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan Mi-17 special mission aviator advisers are stepping back, allowing the AAF to conduct their own missions, setting the conditions for Afghanistan to have a professional, fully independent air force as they take control of security operations throughout Afghanistan.
“It’s another big day for the Afghan air force; three more Mi-17 V5 transport helicopters have arrived fresh off the assembly line. The brand-new aircraft will continue to increase the capabilities of the Afghan air force,” said U.S. Army Capt. Brandt Anderson, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot assigned to the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, based out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
Coalition force advisers, elements of the AAF and Russian contractors collectively worked to download parts and Mi-17 helicopters from an Antonov An-124 Ruslan heavy lift freighter on to the flight line. In the next couple of weeks, the helicopters will be completely assembled and upgraded including the addition of ballistic protection. Once complete, the aircraft will help Afghan National Security Forces conduct a variety of missions throughout Afghanistan.
The NATC-A, together with the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group work with the AAF helicopter mechanics, crew chiefs and pilots every day. Brandt said the advisory mission is a joint effort between the U.S. Army, the Czech Republic and the U.S. Air Force.
“I was here in 2011 and the AAF has come a long way. The advisers used to turn wrenches side by side with them but now we see how technically proficient they have become,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Underwood, a helicopter crew chief, based out of Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
In Kabul, the AAF assists the Afghan National Army 205th Corps move troops to and from forward operating bases. Underwood advises the AAF to prepare aircraft for flight, help them get ready for missions and ensure proper safety measures are performed before flight. He said the majority of the Afghans he mentors ask questions which show they are eager to learn.
“Every day we come out and work with them, they always ask new questions. We advise them on things to make their jobs easier and safe,” said Underwood.
Brandt said he and the rest of the advisers take pride in watching the Afghans take the lead on troop movement, resupply or CasEvac (casualty evacuation), missions and succeed. As the AAF take on more independent missions those responsibilities come with a risk. On some occasions insurgents have shot at the AAF helicopters.
“The Afghans are proud, they want to help their country and are willing to fly into harm’s way,” said Brandt.
In his experience, Brandt said he has been impressed by how motivated Afghan pilots are and the fact that they take their roles seriously. The AAF pilots train in the U.S. and learn to speak English which alleviates the use of interpreters.
“They want to see an Afghanistan that is free of conflict,” said Brandt. “It has been exciting to see how passionate they are and how much risk they are willing to assume themselves for their country.”
The native of Naples, Fla., said he has seen the progression of the AAF, especially during this year’s fighting season, praising them for their ability to perform missions without much adviser support. Brandt said the role of the advisers has been more "behind the scenes," letting the Afghans take the lead flying their own missions.
“The resupply missions, in support of the Afghan National Army 201st or 203rd Corps, are being flown by Afghan air force pilots and crews without any advisers on board the helicopter,” said Brandt. “We give them a lot of credit for the work they have done in the last few months.”
Brandt said he didn’t know what to expect prior to his Afghanistan deployment. He said it’s been a really rewarding mission working with the AAF.
“It’s been impressive to see their development and how passionate the AAF pilots are about their country,” said Brandt.