First Afghan pilot class in 30 years kicks off at Shindand

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
  • 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The Afghan air force marked the beginning of its first undergraduate pilot training held exclusively inside Afghanistan in more than 30 years during a ceremony Dec. 10 here.

More than 200 Afghan and coalition service members attended the ceremony.

The first class will consist of seven Afghan air force lieutenants.

One of the speakers at the event was Col. John Hokaj, the commander of the 838th Air Expeditionary Air Advisory Group. The colonel spoke to the crowd about the historic Pearl Harbor attack. He said it was an example of how instrumental airpower can be to a nation's defense.

"This week marks an aviation event that changed the course of history as the U.S. suffered a surprise air attack in 1941," he said. "Airpower can swiftly deliver destruction on a massive scale. It can also be used to protect and provide relief. A full understanding of the importance of airpower is a lesson that must not be forgotten and its use as an agent of government must be precise and professional."

The colonel said this assignment has been the most unique, challenging and exciting job he has had in his career. He said that his group was more than ready to accept the challenge of training the lieutenants and he challenged them to make their mark in their countries' history.

"The objective of my organization remains constant," he said. "Set the conditions for irreversible transition to full Afghan security responsibility and leadership. Today's ceremony marks a historic step towards achieving that goal. Make this a history your children will be proud of."

Ahmad Shah Belizad, an Afghan parliament member from Herat, spoke at the ceremony about how important the pilot training is for the welfare of his country.

"Afghanistan is a country that has been hard hit by warfare," he said. "Today is a chance provided by the coalition forces to get stronger and we need to grasp that golden opportunity."

The pilot candidates, from provinces throughout Afghanistan, are graduates from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan as well as Initial Officer Training, held in the United Kingdom and since graduation have been enrolled in the Kabul English Language Training Center where they've studied and developed the English language skills needed to fly.

Following the ceremony, one of the seven lieutenants spoke about how honored he was for the opportunity to become a pilot.  was sporting a smile when he talked about the chance to take to the skies as an aviator.

"I'm really excited about flying," said 2nd Lt. Khan Agha. He said it's not something everyone can do. "It's an honor for me to be here to receive this training. The coalition forces have been great in helping in helping us get to this point."

Agha and the other lieutenants also assisted in building the classes' temporary classroom area. Group leaders said this was done on purpose so that they would have a sense of ownership of their training.

After the ceremony, distinguished visitors were given a tour of the classroom area and flight simulator the students will be using.

Orin Osmon, an instructor pilot for the course, was on hand to answer question during this tour. He said couldn't wait to dive in and start teaching his new students.

"I'm very excited about this," he said. "This is a lot of responsibility that I do not want to shirk from at all."

The pilot said that the training will last for about a year and will be very similar to a curriculum that would be offered in the United States.

He said aviation has been a lifelong passion for him and he can't wait to welcome the lieutenants into the fold.

"It will be a joy helping somebody else become what I wanted to become all my life," he said "As a young boy I wanted to become a pilot and I accomplished that. I want to help these young people get there as well."

Osmon said his goal is to shape the Afghans into good self-sustaining and competent pilots.

Pilot candidates will receive approximately 60 hours of academic instruction and flight screening in the Cessna 182T prior to beginning flight training.

The students tracked to rotary wing aircraft will receive 380 hours of academic, simulator and flight instruction in the MD-530F and those tracked to fixed wing aircraft will receive 470 hours of academic, simulator and flight instruction in the C-182T and Cessna 208B aviation experts said.

Hokaj summed up the difficulties the students will face as he challenged them to excel during the last part of his speech at the ceremony.

"Members of this first Afghan air force pilot training class," he said. "Commit yourself to your studies. The wings you seek are earned, not given. Aviation is an unforgiving profession. It does not grant favors or penalties based on who you know or where you were born. It is only concerned with ability. Set lofty goals and work hard to achieve them. Your success is completely within your control."

(Capt. Jamie Humphries from the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs contributed to this story.)