CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan --
More than 100 Afghan National Army soldiers with the 215th Corps as well as Afghan civilians awaited the landing of a civilian-operated aircraft aboard Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 27, 2014.
The flight was significant because this was the first time an incoming civilian flight landed aboard Camp Bastion with nearly all instruction given from the ANA, with only minimal direction from Marines.
“I am really just giving a little guidance when needed by the ANA at this point,” said Capt. James Smith, the garrison support unit advisor for the 215th Corps, ANA. “The ANA fire department has conducted eight Saturday morning training evolutions with Marines from the Marine Wing Support Squadron 274 crash, fire and rescue team to learn how to operate the fire trucks and equipment. These sessions were designed to provide the ANA fire department with the experience and ability to successfully clear the runway of any debris and respond to aircraft emergencies.”
The flight was scheduled to transport Afghan soldiers and civilians to Kabul for their rest and relaxation period so that they can spend much-needed time with their families.
A team of Afghan National Army soldiers with the crash, fire and rescue team, along with Marine advisors, practiced maintaining the runway and clearing any debris out of the way before the plane arrived.
“I love my job,” said Capt. Shafiullah, the deputy commander of the crash, fire and rescue team with the 215th Corps, ANA. “I learned a lot today.”
The training was designed to provide the soldiers with the correct procedures on how to properly clear and maintain the flightline for incoming and outgoing flights for resupply and the transportation of soldiers and civilians.
“It was very helpful,” said Shafiullah. “I am very happy with how the training went today. I like my job because it is about the people. I get to save people’s lives.”
Receiving sufficient training on how to guide civilian-operated flights is important for the Afghans because soldiers need leave to rest and recuperate with their families in or near Kabul. Troop welfare is a significant factor in order to sustain a strong fighting force in Helmand province.
“The soldiers need a leave period,” said Col. Gulmohammad, an ANA commander for the 215th Corps. “They need a time to rest from the war. They experience a lot of hardships, they work hard and they need to see their families. When the soldiers go home they keep their morale high so that they come back refreshed and focused to get back to any kind of mission that needs to be done.”
The soldiers will continue to conduct exercises under minimal Marine guidance until the flightline is officially turned over to the 215th Corps by the end of 2014.
“I believe that safe execution of airfield operations is critical to the 215th Corps’ ability to move troops in and out of theater for leave, training and sustainment,” said Smith, a native of Torrington, Connecticut. “The pilots of the aircraft need to trust that the runway is secured and clean and that if they have an emergency that there are competently trained fire fighters capable of responding to the mishap. This airport is a vital link between the 215th Corps and the Ministry of Defense, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to link Helmand province with the rest of Afghanistan. If properly maintained and utilized, this runway can serve the Afghan people for years to come.”