by DAVID AXE
The Afghan helicopter, a brand-new Russian-made Mi-17, wasn’t clearly his, but U.S. Air Force Maj. Darren Brumfield was still determined to keep it. His unit, the 438th Air Expeditionary Training Group, needs four transport helicopters to perform its mission, and in early November, the group had just three.
Assembled in Kandahar in April and tasked with mentoring the local Afghan National Army Air Corps wing, the group “shadows” and advises its Afghan counterparts as the Afghans maintain and fly the helicopters on behalf of the Afghan military. But of the three helicopters the unit did have on hand, two were in need of maintenance, with one of them in such bad shape that it essentially needed be replaced.
“We’re broke,” is how Master Sgt. John Anderson put it.
So Brumfield had arranged with the Afghan military to send fresh choppers from Kabul. By delivering two helicopters and taking back the worst-off of the unit’s original three aircraft, Kabul would restore the Kandahar wing’s strength.
But when the Kabul wing’s four helicopters — two factory-fresh Mi-17s and two Mi-35 gunships to escort them — arrived at Kandahar airfield on Nov. 3, the Kabul aviators refused to hand any over. The 438th airmen were furious. Brumfield had his men quietly tow one of the new Mi-17s to a distant tarmac, hoping to thwart the visiting pilots’ efforts to return to Kabul with it. Anderson lamented that the 438th had to “beg, borrow and steal from Kabul.”
The chopper drama illustrates the daily frustrations faced by practitioners of a new kind of U.S. air power. After reigning for decades as the world’s most capable air force, U.S. airmen have re-organized to share their expertise with the least developed of America’s allies. “Mentoring allows them to pull themselves out of the situation they’re in — a combat situation — and secure their own country,” said Col. Mark Nichols, the 438th commander. Air-power mentoring groups like the 438th have recently stood up in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force also mentors several African militaries.
(Photo: David Axe)