Afghan Air Force learn English in Kandahar
October 9, 2010
- "The pilots need to learn to use English to fly international airspace, so this allows them to continue their English and not lose it."
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Afghanistan Air Force airmen at the Kandahar Air Wing are taking part in a program to improve their English as part of their training to better communicate with coalition forces.
The Department of Defense Education Activity is a civilian agency that provides education to more than 84,000 eligible military and civilians in 194 schools around the world.
Tom Wiglesworth, an English teacher from the DoDEA, teaches English to Afghan airmen of the Kandahar Air Wing. Wiglesworth said he has been teaching since 1982. He is herewith four other teachers to assist the U.S. Air Force stand up the Kandahar Air Wing.
"We are teachers of the Soldiers; we are teachers of your children," Wiglesworth said proudly, "We came from Germany and Japan. I came in from Guam."
He first started teaching in Korea. This is Wiglesworth's first time teaching in Afghanistan; it is a 12 month tour.
"What we bring is far broader experience of education than just doing the book program," said Wiglesworth.
He said being flexible and creative in the lesson planning and coming up with ways to reach the students at different levels gives the teachers an advantage.
"Even the ones with low literacy, we can support them," said Wiglesworth.
Wiglesworth's Afghan students are motivated to learn English; he said some stay after class to ask the instructor questions on what they learned in class that day.
"These are very good classes and a very good teacher," said Mohammend Hasan, Kandahar Air Wing sergeant major and DoDEA student. "All (the soldiers) are really happy with this teacher."
"If [the students] get a high enough score on our test, they would qualify to go to the [United States]," Wiglesworth said. "So there is a real incentive to go to Defense Language Institute at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas."
Although the students are taking the time to learn English, they still must focus on their combat mission which always takes priority. "This is usually an intensive course, eight hours a day, five times a week," Wiglesworth said. "Well, you can't do that when you're running a mission."
With the robust mission schedule cutting into the English training time, Wiglesworth analyzed the program and came up with a workable teaching schedule.
"I am getting an hour and a half, five times a week for most of my classes," he said.
"The pilots need to learn to use English to fly international airspace, so this allows them to continue their English and not lose it," Wiglesworth said.
As of right now, the English classes are only for the Afghan Air Force, who work at the Kandahar Air Wing.
"If the [English] program grows, we may run some coalition classes which would broaden out to other branches and other languages Right now this [class] is focused on this mission with this air wing," Wiglesworth said.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Irene Camacho, from the 441st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, 738th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, is an air traffic advisor for the Afghan Air Force.
"English is the universal language for aviation, and when I got here [to Kandahar Airfield] we noticed that all of the safety hazards were because of the lack of English," she said,
Camacho said there was an incident when an air traffic controller gave an instruction to "hold" and the Afghan pilots did not understand. She said when they don't understand an order the pilots sometimes just continue on.
In the beginning, Afghan pilots flew with Americans pilots in the cockpit. There are times now when they fly without American co-pilots.
"Now it becomes even more important (they understand English)" she said. "Now you are inter-mingling the Afghans with 38 different flying units [from different countries] that are here."
Initially, there were two English classes, Camacho said. "It progressed to a point where we realized that we were going in a direction [teaching Afghan airmen] and we wanted to make sure we were going in the right direction.
"We are not trained English instructors, we were [teaching the Afghans English] out of our own enthusiasm, so we asked for help," Camacho said.
After some research, Camacho found the DoDEA and made contact.
Camacho sees the class as a way to build camaraderie among the U.S. and Afghan forces.
"It's amazing how enthusiastic they are," Camacho said of the Afghan airmen. "Learning English builds a partnership and a relationship with the coalition forces."
"Putting time and effort into [the English class] and then seeing it develop into something bigger is extremely important to all of us." said Camacho. "We want to see [the Afghans] get to the point of being self-reliant."