BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 12, 2006 - The partnership between the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and Afghan National Army Air Corps was strengthened Nov. 20 when the staff of the Camp Albert Aid Station initiated flight physicals for 20 Afghan aviators.

Lt. Col. Nick Piantanida, Task Force Centaur flight surgeon, headed the plan to certify the aviators under the same health standards applied to U.S. Army aviators.

Before traveling to Fort Bliss, Texas to complete flight training with their U.S. counterparts, they needed to be screened.

During the physical, the 20 candidates underwent eye exams, chest x-rays and electrocardiograms, and had blood drawn for a series of lab tests.

"We have purposely higher standards for the people who will fly these expensive aircraft because of what is at stake," Piantanida explained. "The flight physical looks at key sensory and motor aspects of the candidate that can help us determine how they will function in the cockpit."

Piantanida explained that pilots and aircrews have extra physical stressors in their daily activities, including noise stress, vibratory stress and physical fatigue. When flying night missions, they incur the added stress of eye strain and spatial disorientation to the usual daytime stressors.

Of the 20 candidates, only three were disqualified for health reasons - one for uncorrectable eye-tissue scarring, one with a severe heart murmur, and one who had extensive hearing loss.

Piantanida is working with the ANA to establish a flight screening program at the Air Corps headquarters in Kabul.

"The next step is developing an aero-medical flight standard," he said. "I'm putting together some information on our standards to familiarize one of their medical officers with our practices. Ideally, he will be able to attend the flight medical course at Fort Rucker, Alabama."

Piantanida and Capt. Robert Nutter, Task Force Centaur physician's assistant, traveled to Kabul to meet with the ANA's medical staff. Piantanida said he is happy to be helping the ANA aviators with flight physicals and establishing flight surgeon operations.

"It's a small step in the progression and training of the Afghan National Army," he said. "And from small beginnings, large things may happen."