KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan-- Members of the Afghan National Air Force and 442nd Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron took flight Oct. 20 in Russian made MI-17 helicopters armed and without international escort for the first time.

The ANA provided its own escort with an MI-17 armed with parallel kinetics machine guns and 57mm rockets. The air force members would normally fly with support from International Security Assistance Force pilots, but with the addition of 57mm rockets to the ANAFAca,!a,,cs arsenal, it is no longer necessary.

Without ISAF air assets assistance, Afghan independence is growing, said Senior Master Sgt. Kirk Manring, 442nd AEAS maintenance superintendant.

Aca,!A"It enables the ANAF to practice self-sufficient force, providing their own security while doing their missionsAca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"And they wonAca,!a,,ct have to rely on American support or NATO support.Aca,!A?

While working with the 442nd AEAS, the ANAF has made other advances, he continued. Fresh off the heels of flying more than 140 missions, the ANAF maintainers conducted their first 100-hour inspection on the MI-17s without any problems. Some other accomplishments include building new infrastructure as well as conducting better documentation of maintenance procedures. These accomplishments lead to an increase in air sorties flown as well as enabled the ANAF to fly different types of missions, such as escorts.

The success of the ANAF is also celebrated by the 422nd AEAS who act as mentors to the force.

Aca,!A"The strides that have been made here are numerous, and we are growing each and every day,Aca,!A? Manring said. Aca,!A"I wish I was here to see what this place will be like a year from now because so much is going on.Aca,!A?

The partnership with the 422nd AEAS gives the ANAF knowledge from U.S. Air Force members who have done the same job.

Aca,!A"They are helping us shoulder-by-shoulder, and they are beside us every time, every single minute,Aca,!A? said ANAF Col. Kahn Aziz, Kandahar Air Wing, Mission Support Group commander about the 422nd AEAS. Aca,!A"Everyone from the mentor groups is helping us, we use a lot of their knowledge.Aca,!A?

Working side-by-side, Manring said the ANAF and the 422nd AEAS forged personal friendships and bonds that helped build their professional relationships as well. Having conversations over chai, an Indian tea, was one of those development moments.

Aca,!A"We got the chance to make some close friendship,Aca,!A? Manring said.Aca,!A? And thatAca,!a,,cs what it really comes down to Aca,!" building that trust with the Afghans, getting them to know you and you know them. So when you do provide advice, they are willing to listen to you.Aca,!A?

ManringAca,!a,,cs feelings about the ANA are reciprocated back by Aziz.

Aca,!A"WeAca,!a,,cre very happy with them and want them to be here with us until we stand on our own feet,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We appreciate that they fight on the battlefield with us, side by side, to get rid of the enemy.Aca,!A?