BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Afghan pilots and aircraft maintainers are a vital part of the Afghan National Air Force and increase its operational capabilities, and with the aid of a group of U.S. advisors, they are making huge strides in that direction.
"This is the Lackland or Sheppard Air Force Base of Afghanistan. It is the premier flight training facility in the region for these guys," said Chief Master Sgt. Jim Ritchie, senior enlisted air advisor at Shindand Airfield.
"Iraq had an existing Air Force, Afghanistan did not, so we're helping them build it from the ground up," added Ritchie. "It all starts here with education."
The team of advisors is responsible for teaching the Afghan students everything from the basics of the English language to piloting skills and how to maintain and repair the aircraft on their own.
Tech. Sgt. Ann Collantes, deployed from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. stresses to her students that these will be their aircraft, and that they need to be proficient at working on them by themselves.
"We're not here to maintain your aircraft for you. We are here now to help you learn to do it," Collantes told her students.
The advisors start with the basics and build upon a solid foundation.
"This is a very young Afghan Air Force, and very impressionable. We are guiding them from the ground up on aviation," said Tech. Sgt. Thornton Gallinore, a fixed wing aviation advisor from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.
"They are making lots of progress and showing lots of promise, but there's still a long way to go in the time we have left. Building their confidence is a key objective right now, so that we can eventually leave them with success for many years down the road," he added.
As the Afghan students learn, the advisors watch, guide, and evaluate their progress they also keep upping the level of responsibility as the Afghans prove their competence.
"The maintenance portion is not really a problem anymore. We are now concentrating on teaching bigger picture items like timelines, deadlines and schedules to keep the aircraft flying," said Staff Sgt. Roger Brown, a rotary wing maintenance advisor deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. "Success is happening; every day they are doing more, and that's our goal. They are showing us that they are capable of working towards something, that our work is paying off, and they have a great chance to succeed."