81st FS: Changing the game

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Since 1979, the U.S. military has provided tactical support and advising in Afghanistan, with the Air Force fully engaged for the past 15 years.
The goal to train, prepare and mentor Afghan counterparts has been consistent, though operation names and mission objectives have changed.
Fostering better methods to effectively engage, communicate, and cooperate with the host nation has been a focus in recent years.
Positive progress has been achieved through the inter-service program, Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands. AFPAK Hands receive extensive language and cultural education culminating in a year-long deployment. This method takes long strides in creating relationships, establishing trust, and forging mutual respect; all critical for accomplishing mission goals in the challenging cultural and political landscape of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The 81st Fighter Squadron approaches its mission in the same spirit. We are partners in the formidable task of training and developing the first generation of Afghan A-29 Super Tucano pilots and maintainers. We understand the importance of the Afghans taking to the skies to demoralize and defeat terrorist organizations.
Our students are selected, vetted and participate in months of training before arriving at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, where they spend a year training and honing their craft. This is where the relationship begins.
During their year in Georgia, we work and train side by side, becoming familiar with names and faces and exchanging information, ideas and stories. Camaraderie forms, while trust and respect develops.
However, unlike the AFPAK Hands program, the relationship does not end after the year is up. Our students return home as pilots and maintainers, while our Airmen deploy on a rotational basis to Afghanistan to further mentor and advise. The relationships formed in training are instrumental as the Afghans test their skills in combat operations.

The lessons learned can be distilled into a couple of simple concepts: respect and trust. The relationships that foster these attributes are often the real difference between success and failure. These same concepts that are applicable in our homes and our communities are foundational to our success in building a partner nation’s Air Force.