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Western Afghanistan Air Base Ready for Partners to Take Flight

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Three U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules prepare for takeoff after a ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the full length of the runway at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan, Dec. 20, 2010. The runway is now capable of supporting aircraft as large as the C-17 Globemaster III. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris) (RELEASED)






International Security Assistance Force Headquarters
Story by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones
ISAF HQ Public Affairs

SHINDAND AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Dec. 20, 2010)
– Afghan Air Force pilots and aircrews received a major training boost with the completion of the Shindand Air Base runway refurbishing project.

The newly refurbished runway was opened during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charlie Lyon, deputy commander-air, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan.

“Shindand Air Base is the birthplace of the Afghan Air Force,” said Lyon. “It is literally rising from the dust and the wreckage of forces who occupied this land and this nation in the past. It holds significant meaning to the Afghan Air Force,” Lyon said during the ceremony.

Originally built in 1961, the Soviet-built runway sustained massive damage during bombing when coalition forces initially entered Afghanistan in 2002, said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Tiffany VanDenBroeke, engineering project manager, Combined Forces Engineering.

Afghan and coalition forces worked side-by-side in 2009 to repair the runway, which contained five large craters. Since the initial repair, the runway has supported coalition aircraft as large as a C-130 Hercules.

With the new refurbishment, the runway will support larger aircraft and more frequent flights.

“What we now have is a combined Afghan and coalition long-term vision for the future of this installation, which includes restoring this crown jewel for the Afghan Air Force in collaboration with our coalition forces,” said Lyon.

The 2,600-meter long by 27.5-meter wide refurbished runway is able to support all AAF aircraft currently in use and opens western Afghanistan to fixed wing aircraft. It will also become the main training base for the Afghan Air Force, said VanDenBroeke.

“Shindand is meant to be a military installation, which will allow the Afghan Air Force to have their own installation to conduct activities and training – in fact, in future plans, it will be their only [military] air base,” Lyon said.

“The refurbished runway is the primary runway supporting operational missions,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Ryan Conlon, mentor advisor, NATO Training Command-Afghanistan.

“The overall population of west Shindand is expected to exceed 6,000 Afghanistan National Security Forces service members and NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan mentors by 2015,” said Conlon.

The refurbishment of the runway began April 1 and took 264 days to complete, said VanDenBroeke.

“During the peak of construction, the project employed five American management personnel, 60 skilled workers and 185 Afghanistan general laborers. Tetra Tech served as the main contractor and Yuksel as a main subcontractor for the project with a final cost of $38.7 million,” she said.

While labor is cheaper in Afghanistan, increased costs here for security and overhead make a similar project in the U.S. or Germany cost about the same.

“The first concrete paver destined for this project was high-jacked, held for ransom and then later destroyed this summer,” said Lyon.

“It would have taken nearly six months to get a new paver on site. The military needed the Shindand runway project badly enough to help the contractor have dedicated airlift to bring in a new paver,” said VanDenBroeke.

 “The team overcame this challenge … and completed the project six days early,” said Lyon during the ceremony. “The ceremony highlighted the importance of the project and affirmed the U.S.’s persistent goal of helping and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghan people,” VanDenBroeke said.

With this project now complete, leaders turned their eyes toward future plans.

“A second runway [at Shindand] is in the design phase,” said Lyon.

“Training is planned to be conducted on this new, parallel runway. This training runway will serve both undergraduate and graduate pilot training programs,” said Conlon.

At present, all Afghan pilot candidates have to attend pilot and aircrew training in the United States and other countries.

“Additional base infrastructure is rising from the ground, as we all prepare to advise, assist and mentor our Afghan Air Force brothers as they regain the prominence they once had as the air arm to support GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan],” said Lyon.

“This will be a massive step forward to helping GIRoA develop a sustainable pilot training program independent of foreign aid,” Conlon said.

Like the voice speaking to Kevin Costner in “The Field of Dreams”, Shindand AB has been a project where “if you build it, they will come.”

“As this runway has been refurbished and refinished, we’ve seen more and more aviation units are showing up. It truly is a field of dreams and has great promise for both our Afghan friends and coalition partners in the coming years,” said Lyon.

 
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