The U.S. Air Force 81st Fighter Squadron, a geographically separated unit assigned to the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, graduated its last class of Afghan A-29 Super Tucano student pilots on Nov. 13 at Moody AFB.
The class was the last Afghan Air Force class to train at the 81st FS in a program spanning five years and graduating more than 30 student pilots and 70 maintenance technicians.
“The 81st truly built this program from the ground up – developing both the (tactics, techniques and procedures) and the syllabus, and then delivering full-spectrum training that not only produced combat-ready attack pilots, but also a mindset that prevents civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible,” said Kelli Seybolt, deputy under secretary of the Air Force for international affairs. “This group was one of the strongest classes we had in this program, which is a fitting way to conclude it.”
The class of Afghan pilots executed a 13-month syllabus in less than a year, completing a course that included night-vision training, low-level flight and employing precision-guided munitions.
“They took a year out of their lives – away from their families and colleagues – and dedicated it to the future success of the Afghan Air Force,” Seybolt said. “Now, thanks to that dedication they are fully capable of executing operations independently or in support of ground forces anywhere in Afghanistan.”
According to Seybolt, the success of this class — and the A-29 program — is a direct reflection of the training and support provided by the U.S. and Brazilian Air Force air advisors and instructors at the 81st FS.
“The 81st (FS) established the type of strong rapport with their counterparts that is key to good air advising,” Seybolt said. “Working with our international partners has many benefits beyond just training – we learn the culture and customs of other nations and are able to build relationships. And it is exactly those Airman-to-Airman relationships … that enable us to fly, fight and win together.”
For the Afghan Air Force, it will be Afghan instructors who lead the next phase of the A-29 program as it transitions to their home country.
“To those who will defend the skies over Afghanistan, I offer my congratulations,” Seybolt said. “Your selfless service and dedication to duty bring great credit upon yourselves, your families, your Air Force and your country.
“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our partnership, and we are committed to the continued support of this program in order to strengthen independent Afghan capabilities and achieve sustained peace.”
“Their mission is not easy,” said H.E. Roya Rahmani, Embassy of Afghanistan ambassador to the United States. “They are aware of the challenges and responsibilities that it entails; but they also realize it is not only important, but crucial, for future security of our country.
“The graduation of these pilots means they are putting new planes in the air to defend freedom, democracy and peace. When these pilots take flight, it’s our spirits that soar.”
USAF 23d Wing