Afghan Air Force pilot Capt. Zabihullah (left) and pilot instructor Maj. Abdul Wodood listen and take notes during an intensive language course at Kandahar Air Wing, on Kandahar Airfield, Aug. 27. (Photo by Sgt. Ashley Curtis)
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Whether an Afghan airmen needs to fly an aircraft safely, communicate with air traffic controllers, or maintain and fix equipment, he must first learn the language of flight.
English is the language of flight used around the world, and Afghan airmen are learning to speak it fluently at the Kandahar English Training Centre, Kandahar Air Wing.
The centre is one of six in the country, and hosts several different class levels. Students assigned to KAW spend about 30 hours a week in the classroom.
"It's a full-time job for them,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jose Rivera, who oversees student enrollment and staffing operations at the centre.
"If we fly, we need to understand English. Everyone in the Afghan Air Force needs to learn English,” said AAF pilot instructor Maj. Abdul Wodood, who spent the last six months here learning English.
The centre is staffed with several different civilian instructors with varied and impressive backgrounds.
"We have very hard-working instructors. They always work hard for the class,” said Wodood. His instructor, Sharron Hartt, taught English for 15 years to students in 80 different cultural groups.
The Afghan Air Force requires that all of their pilots, pilot instructors, crewmembers, maintenance workers and many of their support elements learn English as a qualification for the jobs. Spoken air traffic communications and technical manuals are in English, so it is essential for these airmen to be proficient.
"If they can't learn the language, they can't do their jobs,” said Rivera. The students have to maintain a score of 80 percent to stay in the class.
"This is a good litmus test for the Afghan Air Force. The guys who are committed are doing very well,” said Lt. Col. Rex Saukkonen, 441st Afghan Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander. The squadron oversees the English class, along with several other classes at KAW.
This class is a just a small piece of the training puzzle, but it is a crucial one for the success of Afghan airmen and building the AAF into an organization capable of communicating and operating without borders.