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JBA captains assist Senegal AF with night ops, establish template for standard operating procedures

A UH-1N Huey helicopter belonging to the 1st Helicopter Squadron departs for a mission at Joint Base Andrew, Md. June 24, 2010.  The 1 HS is responsible for alert contingency response for the National Capital Region.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa V. Brownstein)

A UH-1N Huey helicopter belonging to the 1st Helicopter Squadron departs for a mission at Joint Base Andrew, Md. June 24, 2010. The 1 HS is responsible for alert contingency response for the National Capital Region. Recently, the squadron participatedin training with Senegalese airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Melissa V. Brownstein)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. -- Imagine flying through the air in a helicopter to complete a highly classified mission. As dusk approaches, eyes squint to guard against the moving sun, but the flight continues in order to achieve mission success. Nightfall ensues, and once again the eyes are forced to adjust to the reduced light, with only the guidance of natural light and the artificial lighting of the plane, the mission was achieved in the end.

Joint Base Andrews' own Capt. Joseph 'Max' Walters, 1st Helicopter Squadron C flight assistant flight commander, and Capt. Danny Elich, 779th Aerospace Medicine Squadron aerospace and operational physiology officer, volunteered to assist the Senegal air force with safe night operations, focusing primarily on the integration of the use of night vision goggles.

In connection with The Vermont National Guard's State Partnership Program with Senegal, the captains were selected by U.S. Air Forces Africa to create a Traveling Contact Team accompanied by a few members of the Vermont National Guard to conduct briefings and familiarization training, said Captain Elich.

"We were over there to teach them to use night vision goggles, so you might think they don't fly at night, but they do," said Captain Walters. "It's just unaided, and, to my knowledge, they did so without incident."

"The training that I gave that was most important to them was Identifying Nighttime Operational Hazards," said Captain Walters.

It was based on the fact they were already performing nighttime flying operations unaided, to ensure that they know that introducing the new technology alone will not make operations safer, said Captain Walters.

Essentially, the use of the night vision goggles would improve nighttime flying, but they would have to adjust operations in order to use them, said Captain Walters.

"We actually took them out onto their airfield and trained them on how to properly use the night vision goggles they had," said Captain Elich.

"Things look completely different once you have on the night vision goggles," said Captain Walters. "For example, you may not have the same depth perception, and those are the things that may catch them by surprise."

The training also included a few other very important topics.

"I performed fatigue counter measures, and how fatigue effects night operations as well as day-to-day operations," said Captain Elich.

They also provided training for altitude threats, spatial disorientation, and flight risk management, said Captain Elich.

One of the big hurdles Captains Walters and Elich were faced with is that the Senegal air force did not have standard operating procedures in place nor did they have "in-house training" to incorporate this new training into, said Captain Elich.

"To some degree, there were echoes of standards, but there was nothing that binds them to it," said Captain Walters.

Though they were unable to replicate the United States Air Force's standard operating procedures, they were able to help put together a template in order for them to establish their own, said Captain Elich.

The TCT broke up into smaller training groups once they identified this need for standard operating procedures and helped in the developmental process for templates for rotary wing operations, fixed wing operations, and overall flight safety, said Captain Elich.

"They were very pleased that we recognized this, and we put it in our after action report so that there will be follow up familiarization training to help them further formulate this template we left behind," said Captain Elich.

With the aid of Captains Walters and Elich and the accompanied members of the Vermont National Guard, the Senegal air force now has a template with which to begin to build their standard operating procedures and training to become a better Air Force.

The Senegal air force was very open to change and expressed their appreciation for the training and guidance they received. As a token of their appreciation, the Senegal air force chief of staff presented a plaque to the Air Force District of Washington.

"I would go back in a heartbeat to train them," said Captain Elich.