Army Sergeant First Class Joseph Lemons, ANNAC flight medic advisor from the 438th Air Expeditionary Training Group, and his Afghan counterpart provide surveillance and security aboard an Afghan-piloted Mi-35 Hind helicopter on a training sortie over southern Afghanistan Oct. 3, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)
U.S. Air Force Capt. R. Tyler Rennell, a pilot mentor from the 450th Air Expeditionary Training Squadron, signs a receipt for fuel at Kandahar Air Field Oct. 2, 2009. Captain Rennell is part of the 438th AETS, the units mission is to mentor Afghans on flying operations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)
Afghan National Army Air Corp Airmen pilot two Mi-35 helicopters during a training sortie, with support from Czech Republic and U.S. coalition partners, over southern Afghanistan Oct. 3, 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cale Seubert, a munitions advisor from the 450th Air Expeditionary Training Squadron, stationed at Kandahar Air Field, assists his Afghan counterparts disarm an MI-35 "Hind" helicopter here Oct. 2, 2009. The goal of the 450th AETS is to help the Afghans stand up their own air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)
by Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos
U.S. AFCENT Combat Camera Team
10/8/2009 - KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- The Afghanistan National Army Air Corp broadened the scope of its training here Oct. 2 when three Mi-35 Hind helicopters arrived to participate in training alongside coalition pilots and crews.
The Afghan crews and helicopters, assigned to Kabul province, took advantage of ranges in the south to hone their aerial gunnery skills. They also used the opportunity to work around the Afghan-owned Mi-17 Hip helicopters assigned to Kandahar and train with coalition servicemembers from the Czech Republic and United States.
"This is a great first step for the Afghans being able to have their own independent air force," said Col. Mark Nichols, 438th Air Expeditionary Training Group commander and senior mentor for the Kandahar Air Wing.
"Many of the pilots here have flown helicopters for years, so we don't have to focus as much on the flying aspect, but more on the doctrinal aspect. We can show them how to truly use these weapons systems to their max capability," he said.
After arriving, the crews spent the following day in briefings discussing the upcoming training, use of the range and safety measures.
There was also an orientation flight led by U.S. Air Force Capt. R. Tyler Rennell, a pilot mentor with the 450th Air Expeditionary Training Squadron, flying one of the air corps' Mi-17 Hip helicopters. The short flight showed the other crews where the range was and what targets were available on the ground.
Having been thoroughly briefed, the Afghan crews flew their training missions. Throughout the day multiple passes were made with rockets and bullets finding their mark. But finding the target with the helicopters was only part of the mission; having Afghan helicopters in the sky at the hands of Afghan pilots was equally important.
"Getting these helicopters and conducting this training is vital because it puts an Afghan face on the effort here, especially in this region, which has seen a great deal of conflict lately," said Capt. Rennell.
"Becoming proficient at yet another mission also shows real progress towards a strong and independent air corps for Afghanistan," he said. "I can truly envision these pilots being able to fly their own escort missions for their own transport helicopters in the future."
With the training missions completed successfully, the crews flew back to Kandahar to de-brief.
"(The training) was a resounding success, because we were able to complete the mission safely and effectively," said Lt. Col. Percy Dunagin, 450th EATS commander and chief pilot mentor. "We were able to set up the training and help mentor these pilots, which enhances their mission capabilities."
"But on a much larger level, this is the coalition effort at its finest," said Colonel Dunagin. "We have pilots from the United States, the Czech Republic and Afghanistan all working towards one single goal, which is peace and stability in the region."