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AF recruiter helps build Afghan forces

Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez takes notes during a meeting with Afghan Air Force recruiters, Feb. 25, 2014, Kabul, Afghanistan. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Vega Martinez advises the Afghan Air Force on establishing and sustaining a recruiting service. Vega Martinez, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native, is deployed from the 368th Recruiting Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Martinez is a 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan recruiting adviser. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson)

Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez takes notes during a meeting with Afghan Air Force recruiters, Feb. 25, 2014, Kabul, Afghanistan. In support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Vega Martinez advises the Afghan Air Force on establishing and sustaining a recruiting service. Vega Martinez, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native, is deployed from the 368th Recruiting Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Vega Martinez is a 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan recruiting adviser. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson)

Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez teaches Afghan air force airmen the English language during a class, Feb. 23, 2014, Kabul, Afghanistan. When not volunteering to teach English, Vega Martinez advises the Afghan air force on how to establish and sustain a recruiting service. Vega Martinez, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native, is deployed from the 368th Recruiting Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Airmen from the 438th AEW/NATC-A are playing a vital role in Operation Enduring Freedom as advisers tasked with aiding the Afghan government in establishing an operational and sustainable Afghan Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson)

Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez teaches Afghan air force airmen the English language during a class, Feb. 23, 2014, Kabul, Afghanistan. When not volunteering to teach English, Vega Martinez advises the Afghan air force on how to establish and sustain a recruiting service. Vega Martinez, a Ponce, Puerto Rico native, is deployed from the 368th Recruiting Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Airmen from the 438th AEW/NATC-A are playing a vital role in Operation Enduring Freedom as advisers tasked with aiding the Afghan government in establishing an operational and sustainable Afghan Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Jason Robertson)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Wearing 50 pounds of armor and carrying an M-4 assault rifle with a full combat load, a U.S. Air Force recruiter is working to recruit the future of the Afghan air force.

Deployed as an adviser with the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan Senior Master Sgt. Carmelo Vega Martinez, a Ponce, Puerto Rico, native, is the only Air Force recruiter deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and possibly the only U.S. Air Force recruiter ever deployed to Afghanistan.

Vega Martinez brings a vast knowledge to this deployment. He graduated from recruiting school in 1995 and spent the last 19 years of his 24-year career as a recruiter. Back at home station, he serves as production superintendant at the 368th Recruiting Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

"It's very unusual for a recruiter to deploy," Vega Martinez said. "I've been bringing people in the Air Force for almost 20 years and I thought, what a great opportunity to go out and see our Airmen doing the things I've been recruiting them for."

Working on an Afghan air force base in Kabul, Vega Martinez' mission is to advise the Afghan air force on establishing and sustaining a recruiting service for years to come. This task also requires him to occasionally leave the safety of the base and visit Afghan recruiters in Kabul.

"I'm a one man shop here to help the Afghan recruiting team," Vega Martinez said. "Back home I'm responsible for almost 50 people across seven states, so I spend a lot of time on the phone. Here I've been able to focus more on these guys because they're my mission; getting these guys trained as a capable recruiting force able to sustain the Afghan air force, is my job."

The Afghan air force is not independent of the Afghan army and shares army resources in recruiting. Two months into his six month deployment, Vega Martinez sees progress toward development of an effective recruiting service.

"When I got here the recruiting team had no training and were unknown even within Afghan channels as a valid recruiting team," he said. "Through my interaction with them I've been able to get the leadership and all the moving parts together to get them moving along."

Like any working relationship, it took a while to get used to working with the Afghans and the Afghans to get used to him, Vega Martinez said.

"I've found that working with the Afghans, I've had to really hit the brakes and spend some time researching and trying to understand not only their culture, but their system, and how things get accomplished here," Vega Martinez said.

The experienced recruiter quickly learned that Afghans are about relationships. He was able to gain their trust and respect by helping them with their first recruiting symposium with Afghan leadership.

"He's helped our Air Force in a better way," said an Afghan airman whose name is withheld for security reasons.

"I'm definitely certain the effort here has given these guys the basics they need to build a sustainable program and air force for years to come," Vega Martinez said. "I think when I leave, if things keep going the way they're going now, I'll leave with the satisfaction that we set them up for success."

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