AETC, 17th Air Force partner to bring maintenance training to 7 partner nations

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Officers and NCOs from seven African nations began a three-week course here May 5 designed to provide fundamental maintenance and logistics management skills--while building essential international partnerships.

A partnership between 17th Air Force (Air Forces Africa) and Air Education and Training Command, the Trans-Sahara Culture of Maintenance and Logistics Course includes students from Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia.

"Big picture, we're strengthening existing international relationships and building new ones where none existed before," said Capt. Manuel Hauck of 17th Air Force. "Tactically, we're aiming to increase the ability of these nations to maintain their equipment and sustain operations in a difficult environment--the Sahara Desert--through effective logistics."

Aircraft and vehicle maintenance, logistics and safety are the core elements of the course. Driven by 17th AF and the needs of the participating nations, the curriculum draws heavily from the training expertise of Sheppard's 82nd Training Wing, especially the Aircraft and Munitions Maintenance Officers Course, which is the initial course for U.S Air Force officers in the career field.

"Being at the AMMOC schoolhouse has been key to building the pilot CM&L course and the staff here has been extremely helpful," said Trans-Sahara instructor Capt Justine Brent of the 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Ellsworth AFB, S.D.

Getting the course off the ground posed some unique challenges. In addition to the combined Maintenance and Logistics curriculum, AFRICOM required that the course be taught simultaneously in French and English to accommodate the needs of students attending from across the Northern African continent. All three of the course instructors were recruited for the job because they have either a logistics or maintenance background and are fluent in French.

Captain Brent and 1st Lt. Brittany Ziehler of 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz., both studied French in college and abroad, and though they came to Sheppard eager to apply their French skills, they also came with some trepidation.

"We're both logistics officers, so we were confident about that part of the course," said Lieutenant Ziehler. "But we're not maintenance officers, so we had a pretty steep learning curve there. It's added a lot of breadth and depth to my career."

A fortunate coincidence helped that learning curve. While at Sheppard, Captain Brent ran into Capt. Odi Diambra of the 6th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at MacDill AFB, Fla. He was completing the AMMOC course and, since he had grown up in the Ivory Coast, just happened to be a native French speaker.

"They asked me if I wanted to be part of the project, and I accepted right away," Captain Diambra said. "It's a great chance to network with these foreign officers and teach them how we operate in the U.S. Air Force--to learn from each other and build understanding along the way. It's like the saying--'Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime.' That's the concept here: help them operationally as individual nations, and help them build relationships so they can look to each other for support."

The biggest challenge in building the course has not been language, according to Captain Brent, but communication in general.

"Think about it--you have two captains and a lieutenant working with two different commands to build a course that meets the needs of seven different countries," she said. "Communication has been key as we've tried to balance the mission objectives of 17th Air Force with the practical realities of the schoolhouse."

Fortunately, she said, all the players have been extremely supportive.

"It's been amazing to see the level of trust placed in us. We're building this unique course for these countries, and the commands ultimately gave us their objectives and said, 'You're the subject matter experts. Make it happen.'"

Captain Hauck said 17th Air Force hopes to build on the success of the Trans-Sahara course and work more with AETC in the future.

"When the partner nations get to experience our world class AETC facilities, we hope they look to us for more of their training needs. By interacting with our partners, we understand not only their culture but the environment they operate in--and which we may someday be called to operate in with them. The more we can understand our partners, the better we can help them with their training needs and ultimately learn from each other."

When that happens, AETC and the 82nd Training Wing will be ready, said Col. Shawn Harrison, commander of the 82nd Training Group. Known as "Aircraft Maintenance University," the 82nd TRG oversees AMMOC and more than 100 other aircraft maintenance-related courses.

"Working with our international partners is an important component of our mission," Colonel Harrison said. "Not only do we train international students in our schoolhouses here at Sheppard, the 82nd Training Wing also operates training detachments on three continents and has provided in-country training to our partners in Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand, Chile and dozens of other locations. We're excited to expand our current work with our partners in Africa now and into the future."

The first Trans-Sahara Culture of Maintenance and Logistics Course session graduates May 27, with a second session scheduled for September.