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Thursday, June 14, 2007

ANA aviators partner with U.S. counterparts

By Sgt. 1st Class Krishna M. Gamble
82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Two Afghan National Army Air Corps Mi-17 “Hip” helicopters pilots, a crew chief and a flight engineer accompanied Chinook crews from Company B, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade on a recent re-supply mission to observe how the Army executes combat missions June 5.

ANA Air Corps Maj. Bakhtullah and ANA 1st Lt. Ahsanullah flew with Chief Warrant Officers Wade Boynton and James Woolley and crews as they delivered mail and supplies to various locations between Bagram Airfield and the Pech River Valley of Northern Afghanistan.

“We’re taking them out to look at how we train our pilots,” said Boynton, standardization instructor pilot

“We are very pleased and honored to be here and [to be] trained by the 82nd [CAB],” said Bakhtullah, who has been a pilot for more than 25 years.

The ANA Air Corps visit with the 82nd CAB marked the next phase of building an aviation partnership that began with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Drum, N.Y. ANA Brig. Gen. Mohammed Barat and members of his staff met with 10th Mt. CAB commander Army Col. Michael Rose to find ways U.S. and Afghan aviators can work together in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“This is a big milestone for the ANA Air Corps,” said Air Force Maj. Jim Garvey, intelligence officer and embedded mentor for the Air Corps Advisory Group accompanying the Afghan aviators. “To see the Army aviators in action is very, very helpful and an excellent tool for the ANA Air Corps to benchmark.”

In addition to the flight, the ANA Air Corps servicemembers participated in working groups on aviation safety, standards, tactical operations and intelligence.

“Safety and maintenance are the two most important aspects to consider [before] flying operations missions,” said Army Maj. Christopher Downey, 82nd CAB operations officer. “Preparation on the ground makes the mission successful in the air.”

“I explained to them the concept of composite risk management – thinking of everything that could go wrong, from the enemy, the terrain, the aircraft, weather, personnel; how bad it would be and ways to control or stop it,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jason Estaphan, 82nd CAB safety NCO.

“[There are] a lot of differences in this training [than what we had received.] [There was no] attention to safety for the helicopter pilots or crew members,” Bakhtullah said. “Now we see how they [U.S. aviators] pay a lot of attention to safety for aircraft and crew.”

“They are great pilots who have been flying a long time,” Garvey said. “They are eager to learn and because of this training by the U.S. Army, the ANA Air Corps will grow by leaps and bounds.”

With just a little over a year in operation, the ANA Air Corps is still being built. In April 2006, the arrival of an 18-person team to Bagram marked the first assignment of Afghan aviators in more than 15 years. Many of the pilots and crew members served here previously but left during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s.

“In the two days we have learned a lot and will take back to Kabul and train the others,” Bakhtullah said. “But this is not the end of training. There are many pilots in Kabul and the best for them to be trained is here. The Coalition forces have helped us in many situations and now they are helping us again with our training and our systems.”

Photo - CH-47 Chinook crew chief, Spc. Eddy Rivera, from Company B, 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 82nd Combat Brigade briefs Afghan National Army Air Corps members prior to boarding the aircraft. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Krishna M. Gamble.

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