News>Feature - U.S. and Salvadoran airmen team up to mentor Afghans
El Salvador air force Lt. Col. Dario Hernandez is the senior officer for the El Salvador instructor contingent in Afghanistan. He oversees 22 advisors that mentor Afghans. U.S. and Salvadoran Airmen advise Afghan soldiers on maintenance, operations, flight safety, and security of the Mi-17 Helicopter. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
Maj. Karl Seekamp, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Detachment 1 commander, leads a team of coalition airmen in advising Afghan soldiers on maintenance, operations, flight operations, and security of the Mi-17 helicopter. Seekamp is deployed from the 46th Test Wing, Eglin AFB, Fl. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
Tech. Sgt. Michael Compean, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group security forces adviser, is training Afghan soldiers in security forces tactics while deployed to Afghanistan. The 838th AEAG Airmen advise Afghan soldiers on maintenance, operations, flight, and security of the Mi-17 helicopter. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
Tech. Sgt. Keith McCarthy, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Detachment 1, maintenance air adviser, works alongside a Salvadoran airman to complete preflight checks before a training flight over Herat City, Afghanistan, Nov. 10, 2011. U.S. and Salvadoran airmen advise Afghan soldiers on the maintenance, operations, and security of the Mi-17 helicopter.McCarthy is deployed from the 723th Aircraft Maintenance Sq. at Moody AFB, Ga. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
Master Sgt. Israel Ruiz, 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Detachment 1 maintenance adviser, is advising Afghan airmen on the maintenance of an Mi-17 helicopter. U.S. and Salvadoran Airmen advise Afghan soldiers on maintenance, operations, flight safety, and security of the Mi-17 helicopter. Ruiz is deployed from Kirtland AFB, N.M. and a native of San Francisco, Calif. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
An Afghan Mi-17 helicopter takes off for an emergency resupply flight through western Afghanistan, Nov 11, 2011. The U.S. and Afghan flight crews provided supplies to a remote Afghan Border Patrol outpost. Airmen advise Afghan soldiers on maintenance, operations, and security of the Mi-17 helicopter. (U.S. Air Force Photo/SrA Tyler Placie)
by Senior Airman Patrick McKenna
U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
11/22/2011 - HERAT, Afghanistan -- A team of El Salvador and U.S. airmen are working together in Herat, Afghanistan, to advise their Afghan counterparts on several missions that will be essential for the Afghans to manage as they continue to expand their air force.
This joint team of airmen, which make up the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Detachment 1, advises the Afghans in fields such as intelligence, personnel, flight safety, security forces, aircraft maintenance and supply.
"The detachment is an all encompassing detachment," said Maj. Karl Seekamp, 838th AEAG Det. 1 commander. "We're advising on everything from securing the perimeter of the base with security forces Airmen to acquisitions, supply missions, aircraft maintenance and flying operations. We have some techniques to help expand their capabilities and run a more efficient air force."
But the Americans are only half of this equation. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with their Salvadoran partners has enabled Seekamp and his Airmen to take on more Afghan students, as well as offer those Afghans another point of view in the training.
"We're advising the Afghans not to be the U.S. Air Force but the Afghan air force," Seekamp said. "We don't necessarily have all the answers. So, the beauty of working with another country is that the Salvadoran air force can bring what they know and maybe there are some things they do better than us. It gives the Afghans the ability to see more than one angle, learn more than one technique and pick what works best for them."
That team work has helped create a positive learning environment for the Afghans. Whether it's leadership on both sides meeting regularly or the airmen on the flightline sharing a laugh while doing some maintenance work on an Afghan helicopter, the 838th AEAG Det. 1 advisers say they've been fortunate to have such a great working relationship with the Afghans.
"We are happy with our work here with the Afghans," said Lt. Col. Dario Hernandez, senior officer for the El Salvador advisory team in Afghanistan. "We have seen a lot of progress in all the areas we're advising them on. They are always ready to learn. They are always willing to listen to us so we're excited to share our experiences to help make them a better air force."
A key factor enabling the constant communication between U.S., Salvadoran and Afghan personnel at Herat has been the detachment's relatively small size, making it feel more like a close-knit community those working there every day.
"The beauty of smaller unit is it increases the amount of interaction between the Afghans and their advisers," Seekamp said. "That leads to a much better sense of people taking personal ownership of their mission. Afghan maintainers are motivated to take care of their aircraft. Their intel officer is outstanding and is the busiest guy here. They seem to be focused on doing a good professional job. They want to do it right. "
The mission of this detachment is one its advisers don't take lightly. Each day they see their Afghan counterparts become more and more confident in their own abilities to do the missions. Whether it's increasing their strong base defense presence, ensuring their aircraft are safe and ready to resupply a remote outpost or simply having good accountability of their supplies, the Afghans are taking control of their future.
Hernandez and the Salvadorans he leads haven't been in Afghanistan long, but they say this assignment offers them the fulfilling opportunity to strengthen one relationship while beginning another.
"When I see my soldiers working with the Americans and Afghans I feel very proud because we are representing El Salvador," Hernandez said. "The American and Salvadoran armed forces have a very strong, long lasting relationship. We've gained a lot from that relationship and now our hope is to leave here, having worked with our American friends to help build a better, strong Afghan air force."