By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 5, 2007 - From firefighters to aircraft mechanics to squadron commanders, a group of U.S. Air Force airmen are mentoring and training their Afghan National Army Air Corps counterparts here in the Afghanistan's capital. It's a job like no other, said Master Sgt. Michael Stoller, a vehicle maintenance craftsman from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, who's been deployed here for almost a year.
"This job is definitely more exciting than the work I do back home," he said. "I got here and had to start things from scratch to build up their maintenance shop from nothing. It's extremely rewarding to look around and see how far they've come since then."
In nearly a year's time, Stoller, along with other airmen, helped the Afghans build up a logistics and transportation area with a state-of-the-art vehicle maintenance facility. They also now have equipment to sustain their transportation fleet, which includes cars, trucks and emergency vehicles.
"When I showed up here, they pretty much had a box of wrenches, and that was it," he said. "Yet these guys really know their jobs. Most have been mechanics for more than 20, 30 years. They just needed the resources. I realized my mission was to try to get them equipped to do their jobs and to help them wherever needed."
Stoller said the relationship he's developed with the Afghan maintainers has left a lasting impression on him.
"Sure, there is a bit of a language issue," he said, "but we've overcome it. We work together, share tea together. Some of them were working in sandals, so I gave them some of my boots. I consider these guys my friends, so I want to see them succeed."
That type of camaraderie is common among the mentors and Afghans, and its value is not lost on either group.
"We work like one team," said Lt. Col. Abdul Shafi, commander of the Afghan National Army Air Corps senior aircraft maintenance engineer operations group. "[The mentors] help us with any problems. We are learning a lot. My idea is that we have a good future, and I feel that one day, we will have a very strong air corps."
Shafi's senior aircraft maintenance advisor, Capt. Ronald Stencel, said he also feels confident for the Afghan's air corps future.
"They are all very committed over here, very professional airmen," said Stencel, who is deployed from Dover Air Force Base, Del. "Many are well-educated from air universities. Every day, they take more and more ownership of their mission and resources, and it's very rewarding to watch that happen."
Other Air Force mentors are helping in different areas of the base, too. Air Force medical officers assist with training in the base's medical clinic while U.S. Air Force firefighters help build up the Afghan air corps's firefighter squadron. Another airman mentors at the base's front gate.
"The other day, one of the [Afghans] told me to go away [back to my office], that guarding the gate was his mission," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Slonecker, security forces mentor from Fort Dix, N.J. "I felt good when he said that. That tells me he's taking pride in his work, that he's getting the bigger picture."
Brig. Gen. Jonathan George, deputy commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, said he is not surprised by the success of the airmen mentors.
"As a commander, I expect our airmen to rise to the occasion," he said. "However, there is a tremendous satisfaction to see the courage and professionalism of the airmen working over here. There is a common bond in the fraternity of airmen and air power, and our airmen are building very strong relationships with the Afghan air corps."
(U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein is a journalist assigned to U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs.)