War on Terrorism

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Thunder Lab teaches future Afghan pilots vital skills

by Petty Officer First Class Elizabeth Burke
438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

7/8/2010 - KABUL, AFGHANISTAN (AFNS) -- The Afghan air force base in Kabul is home to the Thunder Lab, an English immersion program designed to improve the English, aviation and professional skills of Afghan air force officers awaiting pilot training.

The immersion lab was the idea Col. Creig Rice, the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander.

"These guys had been told they were going to go to pilot training three or four different times. It hadn't happened and now we are delaying again because of our acquisition process. The looks on their faces showed that they were losing hope, and I wanted to change the game a little bit and give them something new and different to look forward to and the Thunder Lab was it," Colonel Rice said.

The Thunder Lab concept is based on the immersion lab at the Defense Language Institute.

"What better way to expose them to the Western ways than putting some of our advisors with them 'shohna ba shohna' (shoulder to shoulder) where they live, eat, sleep, talk English and aviation," Colonel Rice said. "The best part is that they get to see, first hand, the professionalism and dedication of our officers, and how we operate, how our system is based on merit verses who you are related to or what tribe you are from ... it is your performance that counts."

To help alleviate the boredom of waiting, these 2009 and 2010 graduates of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and Officer Candidate School graduates were selected to live in the lab based on their English comprehension test scores. The top 20 were chosen. They moved into the unnamed lab May 15 and chose the name Thunder Lab because in Dari, Pashto, and English thunder is the same word.

The daily schedule at Thunder Lab is demanding. The day begins at 5:15 a.m. with physical fitness. After breakfast, students receive three hours of English training or Air Force training. After lunch, they attend aviation English instruction, followed by military and professional training with an American mentor for two hours, and they even have a barracks cleaning rotation. Prayer time and dinner are followed by simulator and study time and an evening movie.

Second Lt. Najibullah Habibzai studied law at NMAA but wants to be a pilot. On his practice English comprehension test he scored a 63. Since joining the lab six weeks ago, he has taken an official English comprehension test and scored an 81. The 18 point jump is the largest of those who tested.

"It's a good place for the learning of English, to improve your English. It is a good place for everyone to be in here and to learn the culture, the different culture of the Americans," Lieutenant Habibzai said.

Initially, they all had dreams of becoming pilots, but medical screenings have taught them that pilots are only one part of the air force equation. The air force is a team and communications, intelligence, logistics, maintenance and security are just as important as the actual piloting of the aircraft.

"Thunder Lab is an effort to nurture and mentor a new generation of Afghan Air Force officers," said Lt. Col. Roger Figueroa, the lead Thunder Lab mentor. "So it is not only to educate and train pilot training bound officers, but officers who will be filling other positions throughout the Afghan air force.

"This will allow a brotherhood not only within the pilot force, but within all (job specialties) and relationships that will prove very beneficial as those leaders start creating and demanding change," Colonel Figueroa said. "They will be able to come together, not just as operators, maintainers, logisticians, intelligence and communications."

The success of the Thunder Lab has been noted and an additional 20 Afghan air force lieutenants enrolled in Thunder Lab July 3.

No comments: