Kandahar advisers empower Afghan maintainers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
In the difficult-to-traverse landscape of Afghanistan the MI-17 helicopter has proven to be a valuable asset to air operations in the war-ravaged country. The aircraft has proven itself in missions ranging from supplying distant outposts to providing overwatch for coalition forces.

Operating in such rigorous airspaces places a tremendous physical toll on the helicopters and demands a thorough maintenance regimen.

Advisers from the 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron have been assisting Afghan maintainers in their goal of keeping the MI-17s mission operational.

Air Force Master Sgt James Ashcom, a helicopter adviser with the 442nd AEAS, said the Afghans are doing a great job of taking care of business.

"I found that the Afghans are very motivated and they are very good mechanics," he said. "When you empower them to do something they will take great pride in it and will not fail."

The Pensacola, Fla., native said that the Afghans do roughly 95 percent of the maintenance work unassisted and advisers usually only get involved with the more complex and unique maintenance operations. He said the Afghans have been doing top-notch work.

"I have inspected the whole fleet and haven't found anything I'm scared of," he said. "I would not hesitate for a second to fly on any of their aircraft that they have worked on."

The sergeant said that some of the main issues are supply issue with parts and a communication barrier with the technical data. There are currently only English and Russian versions of the technical data which is indecipherable to the majority of the Afghan mechanics.

Some of the training has been accomplished in a traditional classroom setting.

Air Force Master Sgt. Charles Jenkins, a 442nd AEAS plans and scheduling, maintenance operations center and mission debrief adviser, has been busy teaching the Afghans about fleet management. He said they have been great students.

"I don't see a difference in teaching here besides a lack of some resources," he said. "They want to see their country succeed and I can see it in their eyes every time I teach them."

The Baltimore native said showing them how to balance maintenance and operational needs for the aircraft is important. He said it is a great feeling to see a student's face light up when they solve a difficult problem. If flight hours run out for an aircraft and it has to be grounded for maintenance it can have dire operational consequences. Jenkins said he tries to impress on his students to avoid that risk.

"Do not ground the fleet, you need to have enough hours on the aircraft to accomplish the mission," he said. "Once they learn it they run with it. When I see someone get it that is a great reward."

Afghan air force Maj. Azizullah Mojer, weapons and ammunition commander at Kandahar, said that he appreciates the hard work the advisers do in helping the Afghans improve.

"The advisers are my friends and they are like brothers to me," he said. "Maintenance is very important, because without it you can't fly the aircraft. It's rewarding to do a good job on some of the hard missions."

Master Sgt. Marcus Wiggins, 442nd AEAS weapons adviser, said he has enjoyed his time with the Afghans. He said they are becoming more independent every day.

"Overall they are getting to the point where they are self sustained, although there are still some areas that need some work," said the native of Lewiston, Idaho. "They definitely have a bright future. They just have to continue using the processes that we are teaching them."