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Being an Air Advisor in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Master Sergeant Michael Hays
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing
There I was during another standard August night on duty as a Production Superintendent for a busy en-route squadron in Germany, when it hit me like a ton of bricks, I needed a change. I checked EQUAL Plus, and it took me about 10 minutes to decide to volunteer for an Advisor position with the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW).

The mission of the 438 AEW is unique to say the least. As one of only two Advisory Wings in the entire US Air Force, the mission is demanding. Our purpose is to set the conditions for a professional, fully independent, and operationally capable Afghan Air Corps that meets the security requirements of Afghanistan today and tomorrow.

In an effort to prepare me for my journey, the Air Force lined me up to attend three courses.

The first was the Air Advisor Course at Fort Dix, New Jersey. This course was a roller coaster ride of a curriculum to say the least. Our flight of twenty-four Airmen covered power-point slides on everything from Dari language skills to Cross Cultural Awareness training, and then shifted gears to demanding hands-on training in advanced weapons tactics, high-threat driving, and the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) rollover simulator.

One of the most eye-opening portions of the training was the Combat Life-Saver course. This 3-day course was different from any standard Self-Aid Buddy Care that I'd ever seen. It applied many of the same skills from SABC, and taught us how to apply those skills in a combat or tactical situation. I could probably write a short book on our class' experiences, however, soon enough it was over and time to fly to Destin, Florida for Mi-17 helicopter training.

I have worked C-5 and C-17 aircraft for almost 16 years, and was still learning new things about them every day. Obviously, I was anxious to see what a strategic airlift crew chief could be taught about helicopters in only 3 short weeks. Highly professional civilian
contractors taught the courses and really put their hearts into the training.

Our five-person class contained five different specialties, among them was a crew chief, hydraulics, communication & navigation, propulsion, and structures specialists. The instructor ran us through power-point slides covering all of the helicopter's systems and we also received hands-on training.

We affectionately joked about getting the information "choke slammed" to us on a regular basis because we covered so much material so quickly, but it really paid off.

We ended the course with a ride over the Emerald Coast of Florida in a Russian-built Mi-17. The next step was to fly out to Washington State for a course that I'd never heard of.

After arriving at the Spokane International Airport the stage was set, it was snowing in April. Much of the Evasion and Conduct after Capture course taught at Fairchild AFB is by necessity classified, but what I can say is that it was one of the best courses I've ever attended. The class taught me skills I hope to never use, but in the event I have to, I am thankful to have learned them.

While in training, I learned that my June 2010 report date was changed to an "as soon as possible" report date, due to an emergency involving the Advisor in-place. The seven-week break I thought was available to tie up loose ends at home was slashed to three weeks. My mind was in overdrive during the 16-hour flight back to Germany.

With minimal time to out-process, the two weeks before I deployed passed in a blur. On 27 April, I was on a plane headed for Kabul, Afghanistan.

The initial sense of shock sets in quickly when you see the Afghan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC) soldiers at work. There are many differences between the ways we do business.

Overall, we leverage our experience with the tools they have available to successfully accomplish their mission. My mission here is to help them along, little steps at a time. The soldiers want to learn, and they take great pride in showing their fellow soldiers whatever the Advisors teach them. It does take time and patience on certain items, because most of the soldiers have been working on the aircraft for many years already. When you show them something new that will make their job easier and/or safer, they are very appreciative, and you'll most certainly be asked to share some chai (hot tea) with them on breaks or during lunch.

The most beneficial changes are incremental, the small things to slowly get the Afghans to where they want to be; professional, fully independent, and operationaly capable. Together with my Afghan counterparts, we assess each challenge that comes before us and we figure out the best way forward. Embracing the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan's slogan of, "Shohna ba Shohna -- Ooga-pa-Ooga -- Shoulder to Shoulder" is the key to our mission's success here in Afghanistan.

So far, my time here has been a rewarding experience that I will never forget. What I've experienced with the ANAAC is truly nothing I expected, and everything I was looking for at the same time. As an advisor, I believe our positive attitude, professionalism, and willingness to help the Afghans achieve success, will make them a self-sufficient, motivated Air Corps.

Air Force Master Sergeant Michael Hays is an Air Advisor with the 440th Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and may not reflect the policies of the US Air Force or the Department of Defense.