by Senior Airman Ceaira Tinsley
23d Wing Public Affairs
12/18/2015 - MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The
81st Fighter Squadron graduated the first class of combat-ready attack
pilots beginning a new era for the Afghanistan air force.
The graduation for eight A-29 Super Tucano pilots culminates their training that began in early 2015.
"The extraordinary dedication of these pilots and the sacrifices these
graduates have made will help establish a secure, stable and unified
country," said U.S. Air Force Col. John Nichols, 14th Flying Training
Wing commander. "They are enabling the future of Afghanistan, a future
that will be decided by the Afghans themselves."
Even though the 81st FS was reactivated in January 2015, the students
began their classroom training in February and launched on their first
A-29 training sorties in March.
"I stood on this stage 11 months ago to reactivate this perilous
squadron," said Nichols. "We had three planes, a handful of motivated
Airmen and no students. Now less than a year later, we are graduating
our first class."
According to Nichols, this graduation is the first step in fulfilling
the requirement from the International Security Assistance Force to
conduct training outside of Afghanistan. These pilots are the first of
30 who will be trained by the 81st FS over the next three years.
"We are here this morning to graduate eight Afghan patriots who will
execute a vitally important mission," Nichols added. "That mission,
simply stated, is to help build the future of Afghanistan. This
graduation marks the first step in this monumental undertaking."
After about 337 training days, the pilots are ready just in time as the
Afghan air force's current light air support aircraft, the Mi-35 attack
helicopter, reaches the end of its service life in January 2016.
"I'm just so proud of the Afghan pilots and even prouder of the
instructors who were able to make them fighter pilots in less than a
year," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker, 19th Air Force
commander. "(Pilot training takes) two to three years depending on which
aircraft they are going to but they had to push it up because they need
to get over there and get in the fight.
"When they get back there, we know that there is an ongoing fight that
is mainly U.S. led, as far as in the air," Hecker added. "Now they are
going to be up in the air with us helping their Afghan soldiers who are
on the ground."
Although the graduation marks the end of the Afghan students' training
journey, the mission will continue through advisory support in
"Today does not mark the end, but the beginning of our continued
friendship between the 81st Fighter Squadron and the 355th Fighter
Squadron," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hogan, 81st FS commander. "Please know
that we are shoulder-to-shoulder with you and we look forward to many
years of working together. Soon we will be flying together over the
skies of your homeland. Shortly thereafter, you will be in combat
defending your nation but most importantly, you will defend that soldier
or commando on the ground."
As the ceremony came to a close, Nichols left the graduates with a few parting words.
"To those charged with securing the skies over Afghanistan, I
congratulate you," said Nichols. "You have honored your country through
your selfless actions, you have honored your families through your
perseverance and the future of both will be better because of your
"You will now have a powerful vote in the governance of your country
through the air arm of Afghanistan's defense forces," Nichols added. "We
all want to improve the world for our family, our children, and our
grandchildren ... it is clear to me that you are no different."