HERAT PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Afghan airmen are frequently seen piloting Afghan air force MI-17 helicopters throughout the Herat province.
However, at Shindand Air Base, they've discovered it takes more than pilots to keep their air force moving forward and are learning self-sustaining support skills.
Deployed airmen and their Aeronautica Militare (Italian air force) counterparts make up the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group in Shindand. Their mission is to advise AAF airmen and build capacity for the AAF's future.
Some skills that AAF airmen are sharpening are: POL (petroleum, oil and lubricant) maintenance, refueling, security forces, computer operations, fire department operations, antenna and communications systems, medical, vehicle operations and administrative.
"An advising role is different at every base. The capabilities of the Afghan bases and people determine what road the adviser must take," said Master Sgt. Matthew Hansen, deployed from the 100th Civil Engineer Squadron at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. "The training is basic; the deployed location will determine the advisory role."
Hansen frequently advises Shindand's first two AAF firefighters, who will eventually be part of a fully staffed fire station.
Using an old Russian helicopter to test the AAF airmen's abilities, Hansen and 1st Marshall Ciro Tenace, an ITAF Provider Team adviser, set up a downed-helicopter scenario.
With lights flashing and sirens wailing, AAF firefighters airmen Abdull Fatho and Asis Ahmed moved at high speeds toward the 'downed' helicopter.
Once on scene, they egressed their fire truck, and as Airman Fatho extinguished the simulated flames, Airman Ahmed entered the helicopter and simulated turning off the fuel system, electrical power and pulled a simulated pilot out of the blaze.
"This is important because we can rescue a downed pilot and save lives," Airman Ahmed said, who recently completed the four-month basic fire academy in Kabul.
According to Sergeant Hansen, the fire academy in Kabul is very similar to the technical school U.S. Air Force firefighters attend.
At the Kabul school house, AAF airmen learn the vitality of their profession.
"If I don't extinguish a helicopter quickly and turn off the power and fuel supply, a downed helicopter can quickly become a gigantic bomb," Airman Ahmed said.
Sergeant Hansen is pleased with the rate AAF airmen learn and has high hopes for the AAF's future.
"Seeing the Afghan firefighters working toward self-sustainment is the most rewarding part of my job here," Sergeant Hansen said. "They are capable of self-sustainment. The Afghan mindset will change so they can self-govern in the current times."
Sergeant Hansen said the two AAF airmen at Shindand are not ready for the worst-case scenario like a mass-casualty situation yet. However, U.S. and Italian advisers are working to enable them to act on their own in the future.
"The Afghans have an understanding that they will work with the coalition forces until they are ready to take over," Sergeant Hansen said. "The firefighters will not be ready to take over until more personnel and equipment arrives, coupled with continued training."
Currently, most Air Force firefighters are filling six-month deployment billets to enable this advisory role. The Italian counterparts rotate on one-to-two month cycles but, deploy more frequently.
The combined efforts of the U.S. and Italian Airmen have proven effective in Shindand said ITAF Col. Girolamo Iadicicco, the ITAF provider team commander.
"It's an honorable mission to advise the AAF at its infancy," he said. "Someday, this air force and these airmen will be responsible for protecting their homeland, supporting ground soldiers and securing their skies."
This work, Air advisory firefighters key to AAF future, by SMSgt Kevin Wallace, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.