Building an Air Corps - importance of education

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Building an operation from the ground up is a tough challenge. Making it even more complicated are the different cultures, inexperienced soldiers, language barriers, unproductive practices, manning shortages, aging equipment and facilities; as the list goes on and on, so does the complexity of the challenge.

Regardless of these challenges, our Air Force is committed to building an effective and functioning air corps for the Afghan National Army. Leading this effort is the 439th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron in Afghanistan where Master Sgt. Samuel Holmes and I orchestrated the air corp's logistical tail - a daunting task indeed!

When we arrived in Afghanistan in February 2009 for our one-year tour, we hit the ground running and designing a supply plan to help the Afghans support the base populace and host nation aircraft.

When we first arrived, base supply consisted of uniforms, furniture, sundry pack items, cleaning products and office supplies. Technical supply, a section of base supply, was the aircraft parts store.

These two sections were minimally manned and although base supply moved into a new warehouse a few months before we arrived on station, technical supply continued to work out of 20-foot trailers. They were flooded with unusable items scavenged and scrapped together from downed aircraft and leftover parts from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The situation proved to be in desperate need of an overhaul and Sergeant Holmes crafted a simple three-phase plan for the warehouse: first, co-locate items; second, label item locations; and third establish an inventory, however, our one-year plan was based on one erroneous assumption: guiding the Afghans through logistics processes without providing a basic education on logistics would be enough. So during the next 11 months we worked hand-in-hand helping the Afghans organize their warehouse while teaching them asset accountability and management.

Our goals for the technical supply side were to locate a workable office and storage space for aircraft parts, identify useable parts and turn them into the depot, and establish a working relationship between the national level depot and the wing. We removed the parts from the trailers and turned them into our local depot, which was run by a United States contractor. This proved to be a tough challenge because the Afghans considered the Soviet system parts a power token for their workers. Emphasizing the importance of customer service and unity of effort, we met regularly with the national depot and secured a liaison to work in the technical supply office. This working relationship improved communication and was vital in establishing stock levels and providing quick support for the maintenance personnel.

Although we accomplished our goals in setting up working processes, the Afghans really never learned logistics; instead, they learned to follow our lead. It all came down to leadership!

Our team learned the complexities associated with breaking down barriers and establishing processes from point zero. We learned that having knowledge and experience in a career field doesn't easily translate to instructing others. We had to leave behind many principles taken for granted in the U.S. Air Force logistics and figure out the minimum, most essential principles necessary to form an effective and responsive logistics system.

It became blatantly obvious that proven processes, advanced technology and equipment cannot take the place of high quality education, instruction and leadership. This is what Air Education and Training Command and Team Goodfellow provide on a daily basis. AETC is the first stop for all Airmen on their way to advanced technology and equipment. Combine the two - education and leadership - and you get what we are at the core of: the world's most dominant Air Force in the world.