KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan, are playing a vital role in Operation Enduring Freedom as advisers tasked with aiding the Afghan government in establishing an operational and sustainable Afghan air force.
From a compound within an Afghan Air Base in Kabul, 438th AEW Airmen are working alongside Afghan counterparts daily, advising them in military specialties ranging from aircraft maintenance to finance.
"We're doing something unprecedented in this country. We are building a fully developed self-sustainable, independent Afghan Air Force in an active warzone," said Air Force Brig. Gen. John Michel, 438th AEW/NATC-A commander.
This is not the first time the U.S. Air Force has advised in another country; in recent years, Airmen served as advisers to the Iraqi air force during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn.
“We've been advising for many decades in the U.S. Air Force. If you look from the very beginning, we've had some form of advising in the sense that we'll tend to give someone a platform or capability and we'll develop that,” said Michel, an O'Fallin, Ill., native. “However, what makes this mission so ambitious is that we are developing a miniature copy of a fully functional Air Force with 160 specialties, so that it can sustain itself from the inside out.”
While advising is not a core business of the U.S. Air Force, there are Defense Department organizations that specialize in preparing advisers. Airmen receive training at the Air Advisery Academy at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. before deploying.
“There is no book you can pick up that's going to give you the secret to success in advising, there is no definitive guide to advising, this is something that every person has to adjust to, and bring to bear in their own unique way,” said Michel.
Airmen filling advisery roles are experts in their fields. Everyone assigned to the 438th AEW/NATC-A is an NCO, company grade officer, or even more senior. They're seasoned individuals with proven skills, who are molded at the Air Advisery Academy, said Michel.
“The advisers we have on this team are the best group of people I've ever worked with. We're doing something that is immensely hard, which is fantastic. When you do something really hard and nearly mission-impossible, it forces you to bring your best game,” said Michel.
Afghan airmen being advised by 438th AEW/NATC-A are eager to learn everything they can from their advisers, and mentorship doesn't just stop in the classroom or flight line. Afghan airmen bring home what they learn, share experiences with their families, their communities, and even strangers; establishing a deeper, longer-lasting influence throughout Afghanistan.
“The Afghan airmen take a risk just to get to work and go home at the end of the day,” said Master Sgt. Jeffery Hackworth, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing fire fighter adviser and Jackson, Mich. native, deployed from the 10th Civil Engineering Squadron, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo. “They see that we're taking the time to invest in them and they want to give us their best when they’re here.”
Michel summarized the relationship, between advisers and their Afghan counterparts, by explaining that every adviser is a role model and the Afghan airmen are watching and internalizing how to be the best at their job, and taking that empowerment home with them every evening. That’s a huge impact to leave. Whether a person is advising or teaching in a classroom, it takes leadership. Here the leadership is put into action in a combat zone.
“Aside from training in a war zone with weapons, body armor, and obvious language barriers, instructing an Afghan pilot is not unlike my time spent instructing at U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training in the U.S. American and Afghan pilots both learn the fundamentals of flight and the same hurdles have to be overcome by every pilot,” said Air Force Capt. Earl Arnold, 438 AEW/NATC-A C-208 instructor pilot adviser, commander’s action group member and Omaha, Neb., native deployed from the 317th Airlift Group, Dyess AFB, Texas. “The difference is the circumstances in which we train. In this environment, Afghan pilots accrue combat hours the second they get wheels off the ground. I didn't get that kind of experience until I had a couple hundred hours under my belt.”
“I have great confidence that if we continue on this path even until the end of the year, we've established a foundation that is sustainable,” said Michel. “The AAF will continue to build the capability and grow Airmen. That is a true testament to the leadership of our U.S. advisers and the potential of our Afghan counterparts.”