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5/17/2010 - KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. Air Force Maj. Caleb Nimmo is the first American Mi-35 HIND attack helicopter pilot to fly in combat. He is deployed to Afghanistan advising the Afghan National Army Air Corps' rotary wing squadron as part of the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Combined Air Power Transition Force.
The 377th Rotary Wing Squadron of the Kabul Air Wing is advised by CAPTF's coalition partners from the Czech Republic, Hungary and the U.S. The squadron flies the Russian made Mi-35 attack helicopter and the Mi-17 transport helicopter.
Major Nimmo received his Mi-35 training from a civilian contractor in the United States. The training consisted of 40 hours of basic familiarization: maneuvers, emergency procedures-engine fires, failures and autorotation. He also received instrument training and mission specific escort and weapons training. He followed that up with ten hours of military training with the Czech Republic in close air support, escort, formation with reference to high density altitude and also mentor training.
Major Nimmo began flying in 2000. In the last ten years, he has flown Huey helicopters in Minot , N.D., T-6 trainers as an instructor pilot for Undergraduate Pilot Training at Moody AFB, Ga., Huey gunships with the Marine Corps in HML/A-167 light attack squadron and the MV-22 with the Marine Corps in VMMT-204 in Jacksonville, N.C.
The Mi-24 is the Russian HIND attack helicopter. The Mi-35 is the export version and all controls are in English. The pilots sit in line as opposed to the traditional side by side cockpit. The front seat is for shooting the 12.7mm turret and deploying anti-tank guided weapons. When in the shooting mode, the flight controls for the gunner disengage and the pilot in the rear is in control of flying the aircraft and can also employ rockets with other fixed forward-firing munitions.
The Air Force uses the Mi-35 as the aggressor at their Red Flag weapons school at Nellis, AFB, Nev. and the Marine Corps uses it at the Marine Corps Air Weapons and Tactics School in Yuma, Ariz.
Major Nimmo has great respect for the Coalition team and the pilots he advises.
"It has been absolutely an honor and a surreal experience to work with the Afghans, the Czech Republic teams and now the Hungarians...The Afghans are very skilled pilots and they teach me things all the time," he said. "They teach me a lot about the tactics that helped when they were working with and against the Russians and the Mujahedin and the Taliban."
He believes that personal relationships are crucial to a successful mentoring relationship.
"I spend a lot of time after hours to get to know them on a personal level. I have found that it is absolutely critical to find other areas that we have common ground such as families, hobbies, and things that we like to do," Major Nimmo said. "Those commonalities translate directly into a more effective relationship inside of the office as well as in the cockpit.
"One thing that you have to understand is when I go up and fly, there can be as much as four languages being spoken: Dari, Russian, Hungarian or Czech and English. If you don't have an outstanding relationship then you exponentially increase your risk in the air and when you are talking about employing ordinance, it is absolutely critical that I know what you are thinking, even if I don't immediately know what you are saying."
Two of the areas that the coalition mentors are working on with the Afghans are instrument training and operational processes.
"They are very war tested flying warriors, that is for sure, but there are some other things that they are working on that we look to help them refine and instruments are one of those things...The U.S. Air Force has been around since the forties and so we have had all of this time to really refine our processes and guess what, we weren't fighting a battle in our own territory while we were refining those processes," Major Nimmo said.
He sees three things as crucial to the future of the Air Corps. First, establish the doctrine: the training, manning, logistics and financing with the Afghans painting a long term picture for the Mi-35. Defining the tasks they want to do and the missions they want to fly.
Second, improve communication skills of the Afghans and integrate them with the coalition forces operationally.
Third, the missions that will bring legitimacy of the Afghan government to its people are effective close air support, Mi-17 escort, armed reconnaissance and patrols, and show of force, because the Afghan population and her enemies remember what these Mi-35s are capable of doing.
"We are trying to coordinate with the Afghans, and an Afghan-led and an Afghan-run system to plan the way ahead for the Mi-35," Major NImmo said. "We are not going to tell them there is only one way to do it, because this is Afghanistan and they need to establish their way of doing it which will be sustainable far into the future."
Finally, the crucial piece for Afghanistan's future is the transfer of knowledge from the older generation to the younger generation. The average Afghan pilot is 45 years old. In America, they could reasonably be retired if they wanted. However; they are continuing to make huge sacrifices for their families and for Afghanistan.
"These guys are real patriots and they are doing real work," he said. "It is going to be absolutely critical that they then pass along their knowledge and that nationalism to the new folks coming in because they will be the ones who establish and maintain peace for the next 100 to 1000 years."
Story by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Elizabeth Burke
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In: Afghanistan, Middle East
Tags: Afghanistan, US, USAF, US Air Force, Hind, ISAF, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing, Kabul, Czech Republic, Hungary, Mi-35, ANA Air Corps
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