Two Air Force maintainers currently deployed to Afghanistan are taking their more than 30 years of combined experience on rotary wing aircraft and passing off that knowledge to Afghan maintenance personnel in Herat, Afghanistan.
Their mission is to train and advise their Afghan counterparts on the skill sets necessary to maintain and fix their MI-17 helicopters so that they are able to carry out the missions tasked to them.
"The missions here can range from dropping off supplies and transporting troops to rapidly responding to wounded service members and evacuating them to medical facilities," said Master Sgt. Israel Ruiz, an 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, Detachment 1, maintenance adviser.
The Air Force maintenance advisers say the Afghans they're training have lots of experience maintaining aircrafts, so for them, it's just a matter of updating their practices.
"Most of our guys were trained by the Russians a long time ago," said Tech. Sgt. Keith McCarthy, an 838th AEAG Det. 1 maintenance adviser. "We try to teach them a new foundation for the maintenance and steer them in the right direction for doing inspections properly, component changes, troubleshooting, as well as hands-on jobs like repairing wires and switches."
The medical evacuation mission is a fairly new addition to the 838th AEAG Det 1. Because of that, the maintenance advisers adjusted their training to better prepare their students for the rigors of that mission.
"I came from a combat search and rescue unit so when we stood up medevac here, I tried to bring that mindset to the training," said McCarthy, who is deployed from Moody AFB, Ga. "With a medevac mission, your aircraft has to be ready to go at all times. If it lands, you make sure fuels done, get post flight done, and get preflight done because you don't know if you're going to get called again in another half hour."
In addition to the fast paced mission set the aircrafts support, the maintenance advisers explained how there are other factors these MI-17s endure every time they take off for a mission.
"We have a very up-tempo operational mission here," said Ruiz, who's deployed from Kirtland AFB, N.M. and a native of San Francisco. "In this region, these aircrafts have to be able to perform in rain, dirt, dust, cold and snow. It takes a toll on them. They're very old but with good maintenance they're very durable."
Ruiz and McCarthy are currently advising 16 Afghan maintainers and despite the heavy workload, they've been pleased with what they've seen out of their Afghan counterparts so far.
"We've got amazing Afghan mechanics here," McCarthy said. "We hold these guys to a standard. They're very reliable and make the mission happen here. They are willing to work and try their hardest. They've made a lot of progress."
Once the Afghan maintainers have done their preflight inspections and fueled the aircrafts, the MI-17s are then ready to take off. The maintenance advisers stress the impact the Afghans' work has on their fellow countrymen they might never actually meet.
"We go out there, inspect these birds along with our Afghan counterparts and see them doing the right thing in getting the aircraft ready," McCarthy said. "Their work is translating into troops being fed and having supplies to fend off the enemy. Every day they are making a difference. Every day they are getting the job done. I feel a great amount of accomplishment being out here."
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