Shindand Air Base rising on the wings of national efforts, international support

26 Sep 2011

Afghan contractors mix and apply concrete to the walls of a structure at Shindand Air Base in Herat Province, Afghanistan, Sept. 4, 2011. When completed, the structure is slated to be a dining facility capable of seating 600 Afghan Air Force members and staff.

What provides the capability for combat forces to travel greater distances by acting as a conduit to the resupply of soldiers, ammunition, equipment and fuel? What system can move forces faster and farther than their own means can carry them? And what can destroy targets no longer in range of army and naval units? An air force, and in the Herat Province, Afghanistan, work is fervently underway to develop a premier air base to execute these missions.

"Shindand has come a long way over the past year, and will continue to develop immensely,” said Capt. Gregory Ward, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officer in charge of engineering and advisor at Shindand.

The air base has already tripled its original size, becoming the second largest air installation in Afghanistan next to Bastion Field in Helmand Province. So far, eight miles of fence line has expanded the base by 2,900 acres to make room for new living and working areas for 3,000 personnel.

In July, Shindand also saw the opening of a strategic taxiway which allowed for simultaneous traffic of fixed-wing aircraft, greatly improving mission capabilities. And, this August, a 112,000 square meter rotary-wing apron was opened to park dozens of UH-60 Blackhawks, CH-47 Chinooks and AH-64 Apache helicopters. Growth does not stop there: a myriad of construction projects are currently in progress to support the burgeoning air base, its airmen and support personnel.

"Some of the new construction we have underway includes development on the west side to include an Afghan National Army Regional Military Training Center, small arms range, and AAF Shindand air wing,” said Captain Ward. "On the east side, they are working on a strategic airlift ramp, fuel storage, munitions storage, and waste water and solid waste treatment facilities.”

When it comes to training, NATO and Afghan forces have learned from history, and understand that it takes more than just the building of facilities and the providing of equipment to create an air force. Education and the capability to pass knowledge on to future generations is the key to success, and NTM-A and Afghan trainers play a pivotal role in the air installation's development mission.

"I view the NATO training mission as central to ISAF Joint Command's plans for transition to Phase V, when ANSF can assume responsibility for general security in Afghanistan,” said Col. John Hokaj, Air Expeditionary Advisor Group and Shindand Air Base installation commander. "The air advising and pilot training mission of the 838 AEAG will develop within the Afghan air force those qualities necessary to become a self-sustaining and enduring contributor to security and stability in Afghanistan.”

The development of Shindand and the Afghan air force is a work in progress and coalition forces are slated to stand "shona ba shona” (shoulder to shoulder) with their Afghan counterparts during the growth process.

"We won't finish building the Afghan air force until about 2016,” said Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, IV, NTM-A commander. "The trainers within the Afghan Air Force side of the house are definitely going to be on the ground throughout that time period while we finish up their last capability to take the lead for air operations here in the country.”

"I am very appreciative of all the work that is being done at Shindand and am impressed by the quality of work here,” said Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, ANA Chief of General Staff. "I want to be here for the ribbon-cutting when the facilities are complete and our soldiers can live and train in these superb facilities.”

The growth of an air force presence is imperative to the country's security, assisting a global community seeking to put an end to the war on terror and provide a basis of security for future generations.

"From a sleepy forward operating base in the middle of nowhere, Shindand has grown into an air base that will support the Afghan National Army and Afghan Air Force for years to come,” said Captain Ward.

By Senior Airman Kat Lynn Justen
NTM-A photojournalist