Air Advisors inspired to find training opportunities in deployed mission
By Staff Sgt. James Stewart, 21st Contingency Response Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 15, 2012
TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS -- "It's hot-wash time!" A voice echoes down a shallow wood-paneled hallway. Commotion erupts; Airmen pour into the cramped passage heading into a small meeting room. Metal chairs clang open and shriek across the white polished tile floor as bodies squeeze into the tiny space. It is a tight fit but the Airmen settle in. The commotion fades just as suddenly as it began. Quiet grips the room; Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Sanchez has everyone's attention. He addresses his team.
"Let's go around the room and discuss how the day went and what you learned. Maintenance, you guys start us off." Lt. Col. Sanchez and his Airmen deployed to Honduras in the middle of July. Since they have been in country, the group sets aside time everyday to conduct a hot wash. It has become a ritual. As part of the custom each Airmen contributes their experiences and an overall image of the day's activities comes together. Communications follows maintenance.
"We worked together with the Honduran network folks and exchanged ideas about setting up network servers and workstations." Tech. Sgt. Richard Rubalcava explains. "I had some trouble translating some of the technical terms," Tech. Sgt. Brian De Luca chimes in.
Lt. Col. Sanchez nods his head. This feedback is exactly what he looks for in the daily hot wash. He grabs hold of the moment to drive home one very vital part of his team's mission. "I'm pleased to hear you've used this as a learning experience. Our mission here has two equally important halves." He gestures with his hand and holds up two fingers. "First we must continue working together with our Honduran friends and build a lasting relationship. Second, we have to train and hone our skills improve ourselves as air advisors." The Airmen gathered inside the undersized room are air advisors from the 571st Mobility Support Advisory Squadron from Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The MSAS recently celebrated its first year of initial operations. During the past year the unit has deployed to Central and South America, working with foreign air forces establishing lasting relationships.
The squadron is just over a year old and the date marking full operational capability for the MSAS is fast approaching. Lt. Col. Sanchez is intensely aware of this fact and reminds his team, "Not long from now we reach F-O-C and our focus turns to our partner nations. This is the time to identify where we can further develop our skills. This deployment is just as much about training as it is working with the Hondurans."
Tech. Sgt. De Luca looks on intently as his commander speaks. De Luca agrees, "Yes sir, it's great to learn where the holes in my Spanish are. I have the Hondurans to thank for their patience and working with me to improve my Spanish." "This is the place where we build upon our air advisor fundamentals." Lt. Col. Sanchez comments follow. His eyes move across the room; it is a sea of nodding heads. "Take advantage of the fact we are here. We cannot simulate the challenges of this mission anywhere else. Right here each of you discovers what to expect in our AOR."
Each MSAS Airmen must build skills relevant to the unit's area of responsibility. The MSAS' AOR requires them to know how to connect with Airmen from other countries. MSAS members must competently communicate with their partners to exchange ideas effectively. Necessity demands each air advisor be aware of a multitude of matters in the countries they are building partnerships with, such as: force protection; cultural awareness; customs and courtesies; local opinions of the military and Americans; increasing interoperability with partner nations; and the list literally goes on and on.
Lt. Col. Sanchez believes his Airmen train to deploy and deploy to train. Every interaction with a member from a partner nation is a valuable training opportunity for MSAS Airmen. His goal is to inspire a training mindset. "The best place to train is our AOR. Here the training is right in front of us. There is no lesson plan. We are building it right now; each day that goes by every one of you is adding to your toolbox." Lt. Col. Sanchez motions around the room, pointing an approving figure at each Airman. "Every day all of you are figuring it out, answering the questions we didn't even know we had."
In his remarks Lt. Col. Sanchez describes to his Airmen how being an air advisor should become second nature for them. As the MSAS mission continues to emerge, he adds working with partner nations will become the primary focus. Deployments will continue to offer opportunities for each air advisor to grow, "But this is where we lay the foundation of what we are about and at the end of the day, every exchange is an opportunity to focus on becoming better air advisors." The conversation proceeds around the room. Under Lt. Col. Sanchez's guidance, each Airman recounts the unique outcomes from their day. Their commander guides them, urging them to see the countless training prospects they encounter every day.
In time the hot wash draws to a close, this one ran a little longer than the previous meetings; for Lt. Col. Sanchez it is time well spent. The overall goal is bare in his mind; prepare his Airmen to recognize the importance of training for the distinctive mission they are executing. The best method of preparing them to safely accomplish the mission and build lasting relationships with the United States' partner nations is through training, training they can only obtain with boots on the ground and in the thick of the action.