By Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
“Out of my six deployments, none compare to my most recent assignment to Afghanistan,” said Maj. Ryan Hayes, former 62nd Airlift Squadron director of operations.
For his last deployment, Hayes was among the few to receive the unique opportunity to advise and train Afghan aircrews. The assignment offers many rewards, but it comes at a cost, requiring a 365-day stint in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hayes left his job at Little Rock Air Force Base and headed to Kabul. In a little under a year’s time, he would become a very important figure in the U.S. Air Force’s training of the Afghan Air Force.
It was not an easy position to attain, Hayes said.
Hayes was initially slated to work as a C-27 instructor pilot but was soon qualified on a C-208 aircraft. Hayes eventually moved up to fill the job of the advisor to the Afghan Air Force Operations Support Squadron commander, as well as running the OSS for the coalition.
Hayes’ experience at Little Rock AFB played an important role at his new Afghan assignment.
“The stream of pipeline students that come through Little Rock have to be taught everything about the C-130,” said Hayes. “Kabul was very similar, as it also had people who were completely new to the C-130 cargo plane.”
Being an advisor to the Afghan Air Force is unique because Airmen give hands-on training to the Afghan troops.
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Falcho, a member of the 62nd AS, is currently deployed and is serving as the 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron superintendent.
According to Falcho, the Afghans now have two C-130s and six C-208s stationed in Kabul. Members from the 538th AEAS are aircrew members who assess, advise, train, assist and equip the Afghan partners.
“We work with them ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ standing up a Fixed Wing Aircraft Squadron to give them a sustainable airlift capability to meet the needs of their military,” he said.
Hayes and Falcho, both Little Rock Airmen, noticed improvements while overcoming challenges in Kabul.
“A typical challenge that advisors face is trying to overcome the language difference,” said Falcho. “Our Afghan partners speak Dari and Pashto. Advisors receive some language training, however, the language training is more survival or oriented towards an emergency situation. Some of our Afghan partners receive English training as well. We work quite a bit using interpreters to communicate.”
Hayes said he saw the Afghans come a huge way in the year that he had been there.
“The C-130 is the biggest aircraft they’ve ever owned and operated,” said Hayes. “Before I left, the first C-130 arrived with an Afghan tail flash and ‘Afghan Air Force’ written on the side in Pashto.”
Not only did the Afghans show pride in the acquisition of the C-130, but they have adapted quickly according Falcho.
“They are making strides in using the C-130 platform,” he said. “They have only had this aircraft for four months, and are learning very quickly how to use it for medevac and a medium airlift platform.”
Training Afghans to fly requires more than one would think. Advisors and the Afghan partners establish personal relationships before using a systematic approach. U.S. and Afghan troops are benefitting from the aircraft training as well as building invaluable partnerships.