Members of the Kandahar Air Wing and U.S. Army Task Force Thunder conducted their first joint air-assault mission, “Operation Sand Hill Crane,” together recently.
Officials explained the goal of Sand Hill Crane was to insert specialized teams into strategic locations where reintegration leaflets would target Taliban fighters making their way out of Kandahar province. The mission was supported by Task Force Thunder OH-58D Kiowa Warriors and AH-64 Apaches as well as two UH-60 Blackhawks and an Afghan air force Mi-17.
To carry out the mission, OH-58Ds and AH-64s were used for over watch and security while UH-60Ms and Mi-17s flew a three-ship formation enabling U.S. Army Pathfinders and the Afghan National Civil Order Police to infiltrate multiple locations around Kandahar Air Field.
The first day was designed to conduct the leaflet drop and for police units to hand out literature to the people in villages in hopes they would contact Taliban members and work reintegration efforts. This was a two-day operation where the specialized teams and Afghan air force crews carried out multiple insertions and extractions to accomplish their mission.
“This is the first air-assault mission conducted with TF Thunder and the Kandahar Air Wing,” said Lt. Col. Fred Koegler, from the 441st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. “The mission was absolutely successful.”
Planning for the two-day mission began with teams from TF Thunder, the 441st AES and Afghan air force participating.
Two teams of Afghan air force instructor pilots, flying air crew chiefs and one engineer prepared for the mission with help from their coalition counterparts in the 441st AES.
According to officials, the teams routinely train in an effort to increase their capabilities and interoperability in the unit before conducting any operational mission. TF Thunder and Kandahar Pathfinder Detachment both work with their respective counterparts and have advanced to conducting training together to build their capacity as security forces.
“This is a great example of multiple teams working together to complete a very important mission,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Sitzes, a flight engineer and adviser evaluator. “Our Afghan air force partners worked hard with us to ensure success, and we couldn’t have performed this mission without their dedication.”
Written by Capt. Jamie Humphries
438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Photos copyright US Air Force, 2011