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'There I was'

  • Published
  • By Capt. Brent Tschikof
  • 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron
It seems like a long time ago now, two years since I volunteered for my Intermediate Temporary Duty to Afghanistan and just over a year since I left. But in reality it just ended for me two months ago. I had a healthy amount of skepticism based on my previous two deployments that I would not be doing solely the advertised logistics advising. After a month of advisor training that included combat skills, culture and language immersion at Fort Dix, N.J., I arrived. It turned out to have a very long history for the Afghan Air Force.

Shindand, Afghanistan, is a rural oasis in western Afghanistan that I had never heard of before, but will also never forget now. Shindand was originally a Soviet base built in 1961, and became Afghanistan's largest airbase with MIG-17s and IL-28s; those aircraft now litter the base in a state best described as a mountain of scrap metal and deteriorated aircraft components. Today just over a year from when I arrived, MI-17 flight training is ongoing, there is a refurbished runway capable of accepting large aircraft like the C-17 Globemaster, and the base tripled in size. All major efforts accomplished by a small team of dedicated and diverse individuals. Our unit the 838th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, which as you could guess was tasked with advising and building institutions within the Shindand Air Wing. What you may not guess is that we were also charged with transforming the forward operation base into an air base and supporting all U.S. Forces-Afghanistan units on Shindand as the Base Operations Support-Integrator.
A dual mission which was easier said than done, the day I arrived we had only a couple dozen personnel to do it with. As a logistician it was the most challenging environment I had encountered in my nine-year career. Basic things like supply accounts, sources of supply where not set up and what lines of communication we had stretched from Kabul to Shindand, some 400 miles. This distance may not seem that far, but can take weeks with poor roads and security. However, luckily for me I am in the greatest Air Force the world has known and I had some great non commissioned officers on my team. Within a few months we were able to set up supply accounts to acquire supplies through the channel system, and establish a new line of communication from Heart, which was only a few hours drive from our location. This allowed us to more effectively support the thousands of U.S. and coalition forces on Shindand. Doing the support mission was critical, but we also needed to find time to advise and assist our Afghan counterparts on a regular basis.

Advising is a lot more than drinking chai and making promises. It is an art that requires skillful and carefully worded negotiation and encouragement. My initial hesitation to advise was quickly overcome when I saw how grateful the Afghan airmen were, that we are there. I began to see that part of our mission as vital to the Afghans increasing their ability to govern and provide security for the population. When I reminisce about my tour some things come to mind quickly, like the sound of C-130 engines roaring and helicopter blades cutting through the air at night on the other side of the dirt berm that separated our living quarters and the aircraft ramp. The constant sustained 40 mile-per-hour winds Shindand experiences from April to October every year. The former Soviet era air control tower we operated out of on a daily basis. But most of all I think about the people I met, the plain-spoken colonel that was our commander who flew bombing missions during the Gulf War as a captain, the company grade officers from all sorts of career fields that I had never interfaced with before that I became friends with, the Italian logistics advisors who were so instrumental in augmenting our advisory mission, and most of all the NCO's, which also included a sailor I had the privilege to lead and help perform missions with. The entire experience was a mix of frustrating challenges, fulfilling successes, and heartbreaking tragedy, but in light of it all, an experience I feel made me a better Airman and leader.