By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1, 2010 – To best protect itself, Afghanistan needs an airborne security element to monitor remote valleys and villages that ground troops find difficult to reach.
Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Nichols, commander of the Afghan Air Force Air School and the 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, is charged with training Afghan soldiers to operate in their fledgling air force, and he discussed his specialized training facility in an Oct. 28 “DODLive” bloggers roundtable.
“[This is] their primary school to train Afghan air force members for their future Afghan air force career,” said Nichols, an F-16 pilot. “I'm the commander of the mentor/advisor squadron that teams with the Afghans on that side.”
Nichols said his squadron focuses on introductory academic training and some literacy, as Afghans are trained to be pilots later in their careers at sites in the United States, United Arab Emirates or United Kingdom. In the future, he added, pilots will be trained in facilities near the Afghan capital of Kabul.
“We have a professions pillar, which is tech training,” he explained. “There's a leadership pillar, which is professional military education -- kind of basic military stuff -- and then there's the education pillar, which is literacy programs and English programs.”
Nichols’ squadron is made up of about 50 people from the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps, as well as servicemembers from Canada and Portugal. Three-quarters of the unit’s members are enlisted personnel. In addition, 70 Afghan staff members work at the school in varying capacities, he said.
Courses are tailored to help students learn things to help them not only as pilots, but also to help them advance in their military careers, Nichols said.
“If you look at the enlisted side, the force development model for a young airman or a young enlisted soldier is [that] at some point they'll progress into [the noncommissioned officer ranks], and we do have what’s called a team leader course, which is kind of the next phase of professional military education that those guys will go through,” he said. The school also offers an introductory course for young officers, he added, who will attend squadron officer schools and senior officer courses later in their careers.
Generally, Nichols said, new soldiers go through a one-month orientation course, followed by three weeks of literacy courses. Where they go after that depends entirely on their job and the training they received earlier, he added.