Building Afghan air force command, control hub from ground-up
By Capt. Eydie Sakura, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs / Published September 25, 2015
Imagine an orchestra without a conductor. The tempo would be off, the performers with their instruments would not be on the same sheet of music, and the melody would be unpleasant to the ear.
Now imagine an Air Force base without a wing operations center, the command and control center for emergency responses. The tempo would be off -- the pilots in their aircraft and the support personnel on the ground would not communicate and it would be chaotic, ultimately not being on the same sheet of music.
The Kabul WOC was stood up Nov. 1, 2014, and their advisor, Master Sgt. Jennifer Fletcher, the Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air WOC superintendent, started advising weeks later. Soon after, the WOC team began to harmonize, she said.
"I distinctively remember stating (to the WOC team), 'How does a WOC function without personnel, equipment and the understanding of what a WOC is or does?'" said Fletcher, an Oklahoma native. "My response to them was, 'For 20 years, I have worked in a command post, which is very similar to a WOC, and together with hard work and diligence, we can accomplish anything.'"
Fletcher, who is deployed from Hulbert Field, Florida, spent the next several months drilling down to the root problem and developing a plan for a capable and sustainable WOC. This was vital to mission success, she said, because the Kabul WOC acts as a focal point for the Kabul air operations detachments at Jalalabad, Mezar-i-Sharif, and Gardez, where Afghan air force aircraft are also located.
"We started with the basics, such as identifying responsibilities, personnel and equipment shortages; we talked about the AAF mission and the command relationships," she said. "I wanted to build their confidence in the WOC with table top exercises and then with external agencies, such as the Afghan Command and Control Center, or ACCC."
The ACCC is the national-level command and control organization for the Afghan air force, also at Kabul. The center coordinates the AAF daily flying schedule with the Afghan Ministry of Defense, wings, and air operations detachments. They track AAF missions with the Afghan National Tracking System, collect mission reports from the wings and detachments, and report results daily to commanders and MOD leadership.
"The WOC also facilitates urgent (casualty evacuation) missions and communicates directly with the ACCC to allow rapid execution of MOD missions," Fletcher said. "I'm extremely proud of the 17 Afghans who are the Kabul WOC. It's been a very difficult road; however, I wouldn't change a thing."
The command and control center also ensures that AAF's wing operations centers at Kabul, Kandahar and Shindand air bases report emergency responses and air movement requests for casualty evacuation, aerial fires, and emergency resupply to it.
In under a year, Fletcher has seen the Kabul WOC grow in leaps-and-bounds, she said. On Sept. 7, the first Afghan-led exercise scenario was executed between the WOC and command and control center. Fletcher and fellow TAAC-Air advisor teammates were on-hand to assist, as required, but none were needed.
Capt. Andrew Kochman, a TAAC-Air C-130 Hercules navigation advisor deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, said he's been assisting Fletcher for three months and sees truly remarkable progress.
"(The Afghans at the WOC) consistently work hard to get their equipment upgraded, improve communications with their chain of command, as well with the detachments under their authority, and improve their response rate to emergency situations," Kochman said.
"I've seen (the WOC director) and his men develop new relationships with their counterparts across the AAF, and repeatedly demonstrate their value to their leadership, to great success," the Illinois native said. "They've become an integral part of wing operations here, and they take great pride in their work. It's really quite impressive to see."
At this point in the relationship, Fletcher and Kochman are assisting the WOC team as they continue to grow their abilities and expertise.
The Kabul WOC is fairly experienced now, Kochman said, with a core group of dedicated staff who've been developing as subject matter experts.
"Our role is to help them develop best practices for running their own operations as well as interfacing with these other agencies," he said. "We no longer need to do things for the Kabul WOC; we're at the point that they're capable of picking up projects and seeing them through to completion, while we provide guidance from our American perspective."
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