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Joint team helps build Afghan air corps

by Staff Sgt. Trevor Tiernan
U.S. Central Command Air Forces Combat Correspondent Team

10/19/2007 - KABUL AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- As the Afghan national army air corps begins to spread its wings and take to the air, a group of U.S. servicemembers are by their side, mentoring and advising them every step of the way.

Almost 100 Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines are working alongside their Afghan counterparts as part of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, helping to build the air corps from infancy in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The goal of the mentors here is to help the Afghan people build their own, self-sufficient and competent air corps. Maj. Bryan Martyn, an MH-53 Pave Low pilot deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla., said that while it may not initially seem as glamorous as flying the special operations missions he's used to, the mentoring mission is equally important.

"This is the core of what we're doing in Afghanistan," he said. "(We are helping them as they are) establishing this government, establishing the air corps and making them autonomous ... allowing us to (strengthen) this country eventually and leave them with not only the capability to defend themselves, but to project enough force to keep (outside forces) from trying to impede their progress."

The mentors stress the difference between the mentoring work they're doing here and traditional training roles. Their goal is to develop trainers within the ANAAC who will then train their own people.

"We don't want to tell them how to do everything, but want them to be solely responsible for their army air corps, because it's their air corps," said Navy Lt. Andrew Cooper, deployed here from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla. "So we tailor our training toward advising and mentoring, and trying to show them, not necessarily better ways to do things, but different ways to do things."

Training has also been provided back in the United States. ANAAC crew chiefs have flown to the United States where they received in depth-training with the intent that they, in turn, would then pass that training down to fellow ANAAC airmen.

"We have new ideas and new experience," said ANAAC Col. Khalil Ullah. "A good thing is we have new crew chiefs who have been trained in the United States and they brought new ideas for us."

Another goal of the team is helping to develop a strong, professional enlisted corps, something that's just now taking root in the ANAAC. 

The process involves both the officer corps and the senior NCO corps working together to set the example, said Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Jacks.

"The senior NCO corps here has been a vital part of this effort," said Sergeant Jacks who is deployed from Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. "(The Afghans) see that as an example and they're stepping up to the challenge.

"They see the work we do, the experience we bring to the table and what we do as senior NCOs. They see how we do our work and the responsibility we take on, and they're stepping up to it."

Colonel Ullah, sees the partnership with the United States and the mentoring the Afghans are receiving as vital to the success of the air corps.

"This training is very good for us," he said. "We need professional officers, good people and equipment. Everything that we're here to do is for the betterment of the air corps. My hope is to one day see the corps stand on its own feet."

Ultimately, said Major Martyn, the goal is to remove the Taliban from the country completely and allow the people of Afghanistan to move back into the world economy again. 

"Where they belong," he said.

When they rotate back home, each member said they'll remember the friendships they've made as well as being part of the birth of an air corps.

"My counterpart is a lieutenant colonel in the Afghan army air corps and we've already established a great relationship," Lieutenant Cooper said. "That's one of the great things. It's a very rewarding tour I've had here and that's one of the things that I'll take back ... the friendships."

That sentiment, and the importance of the mission, is shared by the Afghans.

"I feel very good that I am part of this corps and that I'm helping to rebuild this corps," Colonel Ullah said. "Of course, we are not the only ones here. We have U.S. mentors who are helping us make this corps stand on its own feet, fight against terrorism, and bring peace and stability to the country."

"It's incredible," Sergeant Jacks said. "I would do it (again) in a minute. It's an incredible experience being here." 

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