News: TF Thunder, Afghan Air Force partner to train crew chiefs
By Spc. Jennifer Andersson
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Soldiers with Task Force Thunder, (159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division), offered the first of a series of classes to train the Kandahar Air Wing of the Afghan Air Force here May 9 as part of the ongoing partnership between the two.
The Aircrew Coordination Training-Enhanced initial qualifications were designed to increase the effectiveness of the aircrews and facilitate better crew coordination.
“The goal is to train up the Afghan Air Wing to be non-rated crew members … to the effect they’ll be able to crew the aircraft and perform all crew coordination actions along with their pilots the way we do with ours,” said Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Bruce of Norco, Calif., the enlisted standardization instructor for TF Thunder.
“The Afghans are not new to flying helicopters,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Tony Soto of Bronx, N.Y., TF Thunder’s standardization officer. “They have a carry-over from a generation that flew Mi-17s and Mi-8s back in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. That generation is few and far between.
“Now they are filling up their ranks with a younger generation that doesn’t have the experience or the robust training they once had. We’re here to make sure they have that capability to support their forces on the ground and also to perform medevac missions in support of the Afghan government.”
The Afghans use the newest model, the Mi-17V5 helicopter, a very capable aircraft for this area, Soto said.
Though the U.S. flies different helicopters than the Afghans, there is little difference in the procedures for a successful flight.
“It’s all the same stuff, airspace surveillance – looking out of your sector, looking where you’re going, making a maneuver – clearing the aircraft, air crew coordination is all the same,” Bruce said. “The biggest difference in what they’ve been doing and what we do is involving the crewmembers. So far, it’s all been the pilots running the show. We’re teaching the crew chiefs they are important and need to be assertive to make the mission happen.”
“They’re the new kids on the block,” Soto said. “They’re motivated to learn; they’re like sponges. As long as we teach them to assert themselves, to be advocates for themselves - open communication – those are the things we have to foster for them to participate effectively as a crew.”
Crew coordination is the communication between crewmembers and actions necessary for tasks to be performed efficiently, effectively and safely, Bruce said.
“If crew coordination doesn’t happen, something like this could happen,” Bruce said to the class as he presented a photo of aircraft wreckage. “What you will get out of this is a line of thinking – a strategy to get through your flight efficiently.”
The Afghans are most excited about learning to increase communication between the crews, one Afghan airman said. This class helped them review the practical things they’ve learned so far, he said.
Bruce said the most challenging part of conducting the class was wanting (but not being able) to say what he would naturally say while teaching this class, but having to pause as his statements were interpreted.
Soto, whose second language is English, knew how important it was to give real-life examples to help the Afghans understand concepts better. When describing proper sequence, he explained that when he gets dressed in the morning, he knows that socks go on first and then shoes.
“If I did it the other way, I would be wearing my socks outside my shoes,” he said. The class responded with a unanimous exclamation of understanding.
“In English, ‘right’ means so many different things,” Soto told the class. “It could be a direction, it could mean you are correct, it could mean a privilege you’ve earned. That’s why, in aviation, there is a need for standardization. To make sure no one gets confused, we use the manual to determine that ‘right’ can only be a direction.”
In fact, to prove the importance of communication, one student was required to describe to the rest of the class how to draw an image he was given. After the exercise, the students showed their work. They compared what they thought the student described to the original image.
Exercises – rather than explanations – help convey concepts to learners in a more concrete way.
Soto said when he was coming up as a young instructor pilot, crew coordination was being taught in theory – in the abstract.
“One day, an instructor said, ‘We’re going to put our faith in our crewmembers,’” Soto said. “He blindfolded me and told my (pilot-in-command) to guide me through the room with obstacles, using only words, without me falling over something. It was up to the three of them, and they all wanted to talk, and they all wanted to guide. It was a good practical exercise because it showed how to work as a team so that someone didn’t get hurt.
“It’s a matter of trusting in your crew members,” he said. “I think it showed the Afghans that you have to build trust in each other.”
But the coalition between the Afghan Air Wing and TF Thunder is about more than just crew chiefs building trust with each other – it’s about building a rapport between the U.S. and Afghanistan.
“Major General Sherzai sees a need for his non-rated crewmember corps to be developed to the point where they become a professional entity in their unit, Soto said. “Our primary focus is to start that partnership.”
Like all solid relationships, this partnership is something that has been developing for some time now, and will be for some time to come. Fortunately, that gives TF Thunder and Kandahar Air Wing time to learn, practice and hone skills.
“This is definitely something they are going to have to build on,” Bruce said. “One of the challenges for today was to put it into any kind of experience they can relate to, which would further define it for them. In that respect, I think we did get some points across, but to get them to use these (concepts we’re teaching), it’s going to take a while of them actually being in the aircraft.”
“We’ve planted a seed,” Soto said. “What we need now is to reinforce and reiterate: to reinforce the training and reiterate those key topics so they can apply all the things they learned, which will make them better cre