News>Feature - U.S. Air Force mentors bring power of airlift to Afghans
Lt. Col. Paul Bedesem, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron chief of training and C-27 instructor pilot, right, co-pilots as Lieutenant Faiz M. Ramaki an Afghan National Army Air Corps C-27 pilot practices landings, Feb. 14, 2010, in western Afghanistan. Lt. Ramaki is three flights away from becoming the ANAAC's first, fully-qualified C-27 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez/released)
Master Sgt. Steve Noble, 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron loadmaster, listens on his headset during an Afghan National Army Air CorpsC-27 pilot training mission Feb. 14, 2010, over Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez/released)
by Tech. Sgt. Oshawn Jefferson
U.S. AFCENT Combat Camera Team
2/24/2010 - KABUL, Afghanistan -- From overseas contingency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, to recovery missions in places like Haiti and New Orleans, or aiding scientific research in Antarctica, airlift has a global influence.
Airmen with the 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron are sharing the power of airlift by advising Afghanistan National Army Air Corps C-27 pilots and loadmasters here.
Since November 2009 the squadron's 16 Airmen advisors, including nine pilots, five loadmasters and a flight engineer; and their Afghan counterparts have flown more than 40 sorties and logged more than 169 flight hours in C-27 and AN-32 cargo aircraft, which are like a smaller version of the C-130 Hercules.
"Training on these aircraft and integrating these job skills is key to a successful transition in Afghanistan," said Lt. Col. James Piel, a St. Louis, Mo., native, deployed from the 6th Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. "Being able to move troops and cargo is crucial to any nation's success, but in Afghanistan (which is 75 percent mountainous terrain) airlift will be vital to their nation's security."
Ensuring the Afghan pilots are at their best, the 538th AEAS Is making history requiring Afghan pilots to attend the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio and graduate from pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., before they qualify as C-27 pilots.
"This is a tremendous time for my country, my family and for me," said 1st Lt. Faiz M. Ramaki, ANAAC C-27 pilot, who is the first Afghan pilot to graduate after the nine-month U.S. pilot training course in more than 50 years. "I couldn't be happier about my mentors and what they are doing for us. I feel confident that with their help, I will be ready to fly missions on my own."
This sentiment is shared by his primary mentor, Lt. Col. Paul Bedesem, 538th AEAS chief of training and C-27 instructor pilot, who will be giving Lieutenant Ramaki his check ride. A check ride evaluates the skills a pilot needs to fly safely and without supervision.
"Lieutenant Ramaki is a remarkable individual," said Colonel Bedesem, who is deployed from Randolph AFB, Texas. "Unlike most of his peers he was an Afghan citizen with no prior piloting experience who used his own initiative and drive to make it to this point.
"He is a great example of the future of Afghanistan and I am proud to be a part of and a witness to history," he said.
With a mission to train Afghans to conduct strategic and tactical airlift, airdrops and presidential support, advisors have a clear goal to pass on the valuable lesson in transporting cargo, people and assets vital to Afghanistan's security.
One new lesson for Afghan pilots is the value of the loadmaster.
"The concept of a loadmaster is new to them and they are finding out how valuable a loadmaster is to any mission they fly," said Senior Master Sgt. Mike Crews, 538th AEAS superintendent deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla.
"They are learning daily how to use them, especially when it comes to preflight checks and ensuring checklists are followed," he said. "The best part is we are always moving forward. They show improvement daily."
Currently, Afghan pilots only fly training missions but in April, 538th AEAS officials plan for them to fly their first operational mission.
"It is an exciting time to be here," Colonel Piel said. "We and the Afghans have big plans for airlift in Afghanistan.
"We are fortunate to have some of the best and most experienced Airmen training our Afghan counterparts," he said. "It allows us to make great strides in our training and gives the Afghans the opportunity to excel."