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NEWS | July 12, 2017

628th ABW historian documents contingency operations

By Joshua Mayes, historian 628th Air Base Wing

According to Air Force Instruction 84-102, Historical Operations in Contingencies and War, “The primary mission of all Air Force unit historians is the production of periodic histories. In the context of this AFI, these histories cover “contingency” activity and form the foundation of all subsequent efforts to document the Air Force’s mission accomplishments.”

I recently deployed in support of a contingency operation to an Air Force Wing charged with training the Afghan Air Force to defend itself and country from insurgents attempting to overthrow stability in the region. My job was to write about the mission and compile a monthly report capturing the significant events for future commanders to reference.  In various deployed locales the process of acquiring documents, reports, e-mails, and other useful information can be a major challenge.  Many commanders and the people you need to talk to are extremely busy and actively participating in the mission. My assigned wing, a training wing, provided a unique challenge in obtaining source documents. 

The “train, advise, assist” mission of the wing centered around people, not aircraft. Therefore, the best way to convert the mission from raw statistical data to a recordable story was to interview folks in different sections of the wing.  A large aspect of a historian’s job is to talk to people at all levels in an Air Force Wing, to gather information and make connections in attempt to more easily acquire information to write.

The story developed from the interviews reflected the enormous amount of work required in the training mission of the Afghan Air Force. Imagine establishing a national air force with limited resources including money, human capital and hardware.  Also imagine doing all of these things while overcoming language barriers and complex human social relationships, some well over thousands of years old.  As a deployed historian my job was to document the successes and failures of my particular wing and to provide future commanders with a past perspective to reference if faced with the same mission, “lessons learned.”

On a personal level, I learned the commanders I interviewed believed in the mission and instilled a sense of duty and commitment to the U.S. military, the Afghan Air Force and the Afghan people.  The troops under these commanders felt the same way. The service members I spoke to came from diverse backgrounds. They were from active duty, national guard and reserve units to include some Army and Navy personnel. The level of dedication away from home and family was extremely professional. I felt very proud to be assigned to an important wing accomplishing an incredibly difficult and fascinating mission.