Airmen teach classes, build partnership
Staff Sgt. Harrison Ragin, Airman 1st Class Kevin Jones and Airman Quinten Gregersen perform a 30 mm ammunition upload on an A-10C Thunderbolt II during a demonstration for the Afghan air force, Feb. 22, 2011, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The munitions demonstration was organized to show the efficiency and safety that has helped make the U.S. Air Force successful. The Airmen are a load crew team assigned to the 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Willard E. Grande II/Released)
by Tech Sgt. Emily F. Alley
451st AEW Public Affairs
2/26/2011 - Kandahar, Afghanistan -- Near the busy runway of Kandahar Airfield, under the constant rumble of aircraft engines, a group of Afghans gathered with members of the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing to watch a munitions demonstration on the A-10 on Feb. 22, 2011.
The demonstration, however, was about more than the aircraft. It also showed the skills to use technology to its full potential. Airman advisors with the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, also based at Kandahar, teach classes to the Afghans with the hope that they can someday be a strong partner. A dry marker board and desks don't compare with seeing ammo loading on an actual aircraft, said Staff Sgt. Brent Contratto, an advisor to the Afghan air wing at Kandahar. Sergeant Contratto stood with a handful of instructors and wing leadership from the 451st AEW along with the Afghans who are, together, working to build the country's nascent air force.
"This is why this is such a great opportunity." Sergeant Contratto mentioned. "They have the same goal as us, to see a better Afghanistan."
"They have no way to gauge what they're doing with the rest of the world," added Tech Sgt. Rachel Youkey, another advisor, saying that many of the Afghans who attended the demonstration may have simply been assigned their jobs, with no technical school, no experience, and may have only been in the position for three months. One man, an older Afghan, had been taught about ammunition by Russians 25 years ago.
But with their joint goal in mind, the munitions demonstration was organized to show the efficiency and safety that has helped to make the U.S. Air Force successful.
"The equipment may be different, but the disciplined approach to work is consistent. For them to see safety equipment, using technical orders, checklists- the idea that they move with purpose- it's an example that our Afghan partners need to see," concluded Brig. Gen. Paul Johnson, commander of the 451st AEW, as he watched the demonstration.
A group of three young Airmen, a weapons loading crew from the 451st AEW, began to hand out earplugs and give a safety briefing. They paused every few minutes for the directions to be repeated in Pashto, the common language of Kandahar. Methodically, they began to read from technical orders, books universally used by the Air Force to work on aircraft. A generator whined to life.
In what was described by Command Sergeant Major Mohammad Hassan Akbarzai of the Kandahar Air Wing as a river of bullets, the Airmen fed ammunition into the gun of the A-10. The Afghans grouped around the Airmen and watched them intently.
Sergeant Youkey said she hoped the demonstration would help instill a culture of safety, respect for the power of the machinery and risks into the new Afghan military. Afghanistan has a history of superstition, where safety precautions may be considered a sign of weakness.
"They are very proud of having no fear," she described.
Simply taking the jobs they now fill could be considered brave- many of her students and their families may put their lives at risk by working with the United States. As an advisor, Youkey's responsibility is to understand the culture of the Afghans she teaches. Her challenge is to understand the motivation of her students.
"A lot of it is glory, to do right by the family," she recalled. "They are not powered by competition. It's a completely different outlook on life. We have to reevaluate how we encourage them as students."
The Afghans are very team oriented and have a tendency to work as a larger group. In some situations, however, a large group is unnecessary. For the demonstration, it only took three young Airmen to efficiently load the ammunition.
"It was important for the Kandahar team to see how young Airman, when trained, can do such a good job." said Brig. Gen. Johnson. "They see what right looks like and they see our Airmen doing it themselves."
Any one of the three crew members, commented the Afghan Command Sergeant Major, he would confidently allow them to train is older noncommissioned officers.
Airman 1st Class Kevin Jones, one of the weapons loading crew members from the 451st AEW, turned 21 two days before the demonstration. He wasn't especially concerned by the audience of Afghans, chiefs and the General, standing a few feet away as he worked. Nonchalantly, he dismissed the demonstration as being no different than any other day, performing the job he was trained to do, keeping the aircraft working.
Just like the Airmen, the young Afghan military could train to be just as confident.