Don't drive on the road

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
  • Air Force Central Command Combat Public Affairs
A small unit of Soldiers sits shoulder-to-shoulder in their helicopter hovering over the Afghanistan desert.

The helicopter lands near the only thing in sight -- a remote border police station.

The Security Forces Advisement Team makes their way out of the helicopter along with two Airmen, who blend in almost seamlessly with their Army brethren. One Airman's uniform is new and bright with color; his boots are clean and with little wear. The other's uniform is sun bleached; his boots are worn and look as if they could tell their own story.
While they may appear to be some sort of battlefield Airmen, their primary Air Force specially codes dictate otherwise -- A C-17 pilot and a C-130 navigator.

The two Airmen are Air Mobility Liaison Officers. Rotating between office and field, their job description is hard to put down on paper. While behind a desk, they are the go-between for the Army and Air Force. They arrange air transportation of Army assets to include supplies and personnel.

In the field, they do everything from familiarizing Soldiers on drop-zone surveys to fielding airdrops in some of the more hostile locations.

The mission for today is familiarization training on DZ surveys for the SFAT.

The ABP compound they are visiting this mission resembles The Alamo -- rugged, powerless and old. Glass and rocks litter the floor -- the same floor that the ABP and mentor team share meals on, and talk business.

Air Force Capt. Matthew Zahler, outgoing AMLO for Regional Command South in Afghanistan and native of Fort Mitchell, Ky., walks around the ABP complex and outside the wire. He roams around the area like he owns it. His gear is tactical and his confidence is worn on his sleeve like a unit patch.

His counterpart is the man that will be replacing him, Air Force Maj. Jason Helton, a former combat engineer in the Army,

The AMLOs make their way outside to begin surveying a DZ. Everywhere they go, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jose Martinez, team sergeant for 3rd Zone, Afghan Border Police SFAT, is less than a few feet away from them. Like a sponge, Martinez's goal is to absorb everything he can from the AMLOs.

"For us, it's all about mentoring the ABP," said Martinez, a native of Miami, Fla. "Without a resupply, the ABP can't sustain the fight. The AMLO is an essential capability for us."

When the group nears the first possible DZ, the ABP start chatting, pointing at a .50 caliber machine gun and holding up two fingers. Their spotty English is translated; a firefight took place in the field two days earlier, which killed one AB policeman. The machine gun they had pointed to was recovered from the enemy after they had killed him. That's all Zahler needed to hear to try a closer area that would be easier to defend.

"Don't go on the roads," remarks one of the ABP members. "Only cross them if you have to," alluding to the fact that there are numerous IEDs and land mines in the area -- some are Taliban, some are left over from the Russian occupation.
The two flyers volunteered for this duty. Leaving behind a temperature controlled flight deck and predicable work schedule, Zahler and Helton now find themselves driving a pickup truck and an all-terrain vehicle through a field full of ditches, hills and explosives. They are outside the wire in a place that won't be found in this century's top 10 vacation spots.

For units such as this ABP compound, airdrops are the only means of resupply. Resupplying these critical units means the difference between mission failure or mission success.

"By necessity, we work in some austere environments," said Lt. Col. Michael McDermott, 3rd Zone ABP SFAT commander and native of St. Anne, Mo. "Sometimes we have no other option than a fixed-wing airdrop. We can't do that without an AMLO with us."

The more AMLOs prove themselves a useful tool, the more the Army utilizes them.

"If there's a chance a convoy may be out for a while, the mentor teams will call me up, and I'll go out with them," said Zahler. "If a route is known for taking a long time due to IEDs, then I can go out with them and facilitate a resupply drop."

As one AMLO goes home, and the other arrives, a new objective is set.

"My goal is to train these mentor teams to the point where I work myself out of a job," said Helton, a native of Greeneville, Tenn. "Educate, monitor, advise and sometimes roll up our sleeves and get into it when the Army needs our help."