Two Fairchild Airman awarded Bronze Star Medals: Lt. Col. shares his unique, rewarding mission

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Wayne McCaskill
  • 509th Weapons Squadron
Lt. Col. Wayne McCaskill, 509th Weapons Squadron, was awarded a Bronze Star in a ceremony Aug. 5 for his exceptional service as an Air Advisor to the Afghan Air Force in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Read his story in his own words below:

I just returned from one year in Afghanistan performing the most unique and rewarding mission of my career and one that most people are not aware of at all. I was an Air Advisor to the Afghan Air Force. Air Advisor is not a new mission for the Air Force but it is one the mainstream has not done since VietNam.

I served as the Director of Operations, J3, for NATO Air Training Command- Afghanistan. Our mission was to build the Afghan Air Force to a size of 8,000 personnel and 146 fixed and rotary wing aircraft operating out of 15 locations around the country.

Air advisors are selected from all Air Force Specialty Codes' in the Air Force to train and advise their Afghan counterpart. They receive one month of specialized training before deployment covering all aspects of the mission such as intense culture and language training, advanced medical, advanced weapons to include the AK-47 and combat and convoy driving training. What that means is that as a pilot, I soon found myself wearing full battle rattle, carrying an M4, speaking Dari (a subset of Farsi) and driving around in up armored vehicles. Not my normal job but ok, I am ready.

The 14-nation NATC-A team faced a huge challenge. Afghanistan has been at war for 30 years effectively stopping any training or progress for the military. Add to this that a good portion of the population is illiterate and has a life expectancy of only 44 years. The average age of the existing Afghan Air Force pilot is 43. There is little infrastructure and very little in the way of a legitimate economy to work with. Our early attempts at technical training met with a high failure rate as well as a high absent without leave rate.

Many different approaches were tried, but finally it was decided to set up an Immersion Lab. The concept behind the "Thunder Lab" (the first set of students got to name it) is to prepare newly commissioned Afghan officers for out of country technical training. The initial standup consisted of 10 Air Advisors and 40 brand new Afghan lieutenants living 24/7 in a small compound within the Afghan Air Force base but outside of the International Security Assistance Force base. I soon became older brother, father, advisor and technical trainer to some very motivated Afghan officers. We taught everything from technical material to language and what I call social etiquette. We affectionately called this "man law." Let's just say the Afghan personal sense of space and privacy is remarkably different than what we are used to.

Long story short, we have seen a 20 percent increase in language capabilities and a decrease of more than 12 months in training time for these future pilots. The first four Afghan female pilot candidates just left Thunder Lab for the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas and will enter rotary wing training from there.

Forty Afghan lieutenants are not 8,000. The Afghan Air Force has a long way to go, but it is a start. This immersion model is now being used by other agencies and seeing the same success so there is hope. I never imagined myself doing this 28 years ago, but it has been the most rewarding job I've done. I challenge you to consider taking on the Air Advisor mission. You can learn more about the Thunder Lab on Face book by searching for Afghan Thunder Lab.