TAAC-Air work ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with AAF to build sustainable force

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- At Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, a small group of U.S. Air Force Train Advise Assist Command – Air advisors make up the 441st and 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadrons. The two squadrons are focused on working “shohna ba shohna,” or “shoulder to shoulder,” with the Afghan air force to develop a professional, capable and sustainable air force.

In order to achieve this, TAAC-Air groups support NATO’s Resolute support mission with maintenance and operations squadrons providing valuable insight to the newly reborn AAF.

“The Kandahar Air Wing's primary mission is casualty evacuation, personnel transport and resupply using the Soviet-made Mi-17 Hind and U.S.-made Cessna 208B Grand Caravan,” said Maj. Bryan Florio, 442nd AEAS commander.

In the maintenance squadron, a group of professional and dedicated air advisors is comprised of nearly 140 total personnel. Of those, a small portion are maintenance military advisors who supplement approximately 100 U.S. and Ukrainian maintenance contractors supporting the AAF assigned to KAW’s maintenance group.

As the primary contractor for the Mi-17 and C-208, Lockheed Martin’s workforce is primarily responsible for maintenance and providing formal instruction to the Afghans while the U.S. Air Force plays a larger role in advising senior leadership on maintenance and logistics management.

“Essentially we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job,” said Tech. Sgt. Richard Embrey, TAAC-Air Intermediate Maintenance Squadron Mi-17 advisor. “We are trying to make a sustainable program for the Afghans so when we leave they can keep going. We are giving them the confidence they need to be self-sustaining. I think we are on the right track, these guys, day in and day out, do awesome stuff. They work really hard.”

Though Embrey can only speak about his 10 months deployed to Kandahar, Ashna, a translator assigned to the group, has seen the progress over a longer period of time and sees positive trends as well.

“One of the things that we’ve worked on really hard and they’ve really improved here in the past couple of years is the safety and quality of work,” he said.

Following along with the 442nd AEAS’s mantra of “Afghans in the lead’’ the squadron is continually training and graduating maintainers to be able to train their own. Most recently, graduating a group of C-208 maintainers to level 1 and 2 skillsets, which are the highest ratings, and creating more Afghans who are able to train their own.

In the 441st AEAS, the focus is also on building a force that can hold its own without U.S. involvement in the future.

“We aren’t just training them the basics, they’ve already done that,” said Master Sgt. Justin Kay, TAAC-Air Mi-17 flight engineer. “We are creating instructors so they can train their own. We feel like there is a core of the air crew that can be self-sustaining, and if they can get more manning, they can train without needing us to do it.”

In addition to training and advising pilots, engineers and door gunners, the operations squadron helps plan both real world and training missions; commonly seeing the effect of that training in a very short time.

“Twice, recently, after training on forward firing weapons Afghans crews were able to go out the next day and attack Taliban targets,” said Kay. “It showed the direct impact of the training we had just given them. They were able to find the target, identify it, and communicate with the ground that it was the correct target.”

One of the best parts according to Kay is that the U.S. doesn’t dictate the training. The AAF members are able to create their own training plans and come to the advisors when they need help.

“The Afghans come to us and ask us for training on specific things,” said Kay. “Whether it is weapons training, transporting troops or getting into tight landing zones, they can come to us.”

The AAF show a great deal of pride in the work they do but also know there is still work to be done.

“Part of the difficulty we have is building a force while fighting a war,” said an AAF member who wished to remain unnamed. “But, just like U.S. came to Afghanistan to help us and protect America, we have a duty to fight for our country as well.“

While the Afghans continue to train and fight, TAAC-Air will continue to lead the development of a capable and sustainable Afghan Air Force.