Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TOP STORY >> Base assists Afghan Air Force

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from Little Rock Air Force Base helped the Afghan armed forces achieve military independence by helping them organize a modern Afghan Air Force. One local airman has led the way toward reaching that goal.

Lt. Col. Christopher Garcia, an airman with the 19th Airlift Wing, was selected to help create an Afghan Air Force with rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.

“Essentially, we were to help bring the Afghan Air Force into the 21st century,” Garcia said. “Though I have had five previous deployments, none were similar to my most recent assignment to Kabul.”

Garcia left Little Rock Air Force Base for a one-year deployment in August 2013 with the 538th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kabul.

“When I arrived, the squadron had six C-208 aircraft and zero C-130s. The only two Afghan C-130 pilots and sole flight engineer were still undergoing qualification training abroad,” Garcia said.

Garcia, who ended his tour last summer, was the director of operations for a team of coalition members that made up the 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. The unit had to be creative while working in a combat environment, he said. They succeeded despite personnel cuts, base attacks and adjusting to Afghan culture, Garcia said.

“Against the hurdles, the first two Afghan Air Force C-130s arrived at the end of September 2013,” Garcia said. “Both of the planes were formerly assigned to Little Rock AFB.”

Receiving the C-130s was a huge accomplishment for the Afghans.

“It was the largest and fastest plane in their fleet,” Garcia said. “Afghan news networks and political leaders were there to see the planes land.”

More importantly, the Afghan pilots, who recently graduated their initial training, arrived in Kabul at the same time as the aircraft.

Along with providing complete training for the Afghan pilots, the mission contributed to building better relationships.

“The pilots and I were able to work better after going through similar experiences, such as qualification training,” Garcia said. “I really got to know them.”

For Garcia, a true sense of accomplishment came eight months later.

“Getting the planes was a start, but getting the Afghans to fly them on their own was another hurdle,” he said.

“The pilots and flight engineer had been trained and were very proficient, but we needed to gather the best of their current C-27 loadmasters and train them in Kabul.”

Garcia and his team qualified the loadmasters in Kabul. The hands-on training allowed the Afghan loadmasters to transport passengers and one baggage pallet.

“My proudest moment was when the Afghans accomplished their first mission on their own,” Garcia said. “The quality of the Afghan Air Force crew members allowed us to exceed our goals.”

The fully operable C-130s and Afghan aircrews showed the country’s growing responsibility for and ability to manage its own defense, he noted.

“It was a huge step in vying forward for their country and their people,” Garcia said.

LRAFB airmen were vital in much of the training accomplished with the Afghans.

“Little Rock Air Force Base is the only place in the world where pilots can gain the absolute skill, knowledge and experience in C-130 aviation,” Garcia said.

“We’ve been doing this for years. The facilities and trained instructors at Little Rock make it the perfect place for airmen to master their craft. It allows us to work with international partners while simultaneously meeting multiple standards,” Garcia said.

Though Garcia’s deployment ended in July, the work abroad is ongoing.

“I know that there will be more Afghan pilots, engineers and loadmasters trained for the C-130 platform,” Garcia said.

In addition to getting better-trained aircrews, the Afghan Air Force is also set to have an acquired total of four C-130s by the end of the year.

“Little Rock Air Force Base played a huge part in creating a legacy for the Afghan Air Force,” Garcia said. “Approximately 70 countries in the world fly the C-130, and now Afghanistan is one of them.”