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Afghan Air Corps delivers hope to a Northern Province

  • Published
  • By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Elizabeth Burke
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing
On May 19, 2010, a half Afghan and half American team set out on a two-day, four part humanitarian mission to Badakshan province flying in two ANAAC Mi-17 transport helicopters.

The first priority on this trip was to return the remains of two Afghan National Army Air Corps soldiers to their families for burial. It was an amazing sight to be flying over the beautiful countryside. When we arrived at the right spot, the villagers came out of nowhere as the helicopter was landing to retrieve their fallen soldiers. While one helicopter landed, the other remained overhead with a bird's eye view of this touching gesture.

"As we orbited the area watching from above, it made me appreciate what we have in the U.S. when one of our brothers or sisters pays the ultimate price," said Master Sgt. Bubba Beason, Combined Airpower Transition Force's First Sergeant. "Seeing the Afghans do the same, is well....priceless."

After returning the fallen soldiers to the villagers, we refueled in Faizabad and continued our mission.

The second priority on this mission was delivering a 1,200 pound generator to the village of Baharak. The mission to Baharak had great significance as Badakshan was a Mujahedin stronghold during the Soviet invasion. In the 2009 presidential elections, no ballots made it to Baharak and the villager's inability to vote was seen as a deliberate act by the government. We were hosted by the Central Asia Institute, the organization started by Greg Mortensen of Three Cups of Tea fame. The entire village came out to welcome the crews of the Afghan Air Corps Mi-17s. Flowers were thrown, lunch was served and the children sang. Hopefully, having the ANAAC deliver the generator mended relationships with the people and restore their confidence in the Afghan government.

The third part of the mission was to deliver 2,000 pounds of books to a remote village called Maimai in the northern most part of Afghanistan, a request from the Kabul Air Wing Commander General Mohammad Barat. The only useable landing zone was a wheat field. Azarjan, the farmer whose fields we landed in, was not originally very happy to see us; however, after seeing all the books for the children, he was delighted. We used a human chain to offload the books and minimize the damage to his crops. The books were delivered the director of the Maimai School.

Unfortunately, the last part of the mission which was to deliver school supplies to an orphanage in Faizabad was cancelled because of adverse weather.

The importance of these kinds of mission is what the American mentors are trying to instill in the members of the Air Corps.

"In that region there has not been very much support for the community using helicopters from the Air Corps. The Air Corps is still seen as the enemy from when they fought the Mujahedin. They have not seen the positive side," said Lt. Col Olaf Holm. "So it is a tremendous step forward for the ANAAC and the government, because they really did something positive and there were so many people there to see it."

Afghans helping Afghans, the benefit to the Afghan people is immeasurable.