SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
United States, Afghan and other ground forces fighting the Taliban grew accustomed over the years to calling for and getting air support during combat missions.
That changed in recent years when coalition partners began to wind down operations in the theater, creating an airpower vacuum. But that vacuum, too, has changed as U.S. Air Force Airmen have worked to build the Afghan Air Force from the ground up.
Col. Lendy Renegar, 80th Flying Training Wing vice commander, is one Airman who played a role in the effort, which resulted in a Bronze Star Medal and Air Medal.
“Airpower is like oxygen,” he said, using a quote from retired Gen. Frank Gorenc. “You don’t think about it until you don’t have it, then it’s all you think about.”
As an F-15C Eagle driver, Renegar has deployed to support missions in a variety of places including Iraq, Iceland and the Baltic Region, but the C-model wasn’t used in Afghanistan. To get there, he said he volunteered for the opportunity because he wanted to see what Airmen were doing there and also because if he hadn’t volunteered, he would’ve missed out on serving there.
The colonel was assigned to the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing in Kabul to work as the wing’s chief of staff, which entailed managing the day-to-day operations of Forward Operating Base Oqab as well as serving as an air advisor to the AAF. Renegar said he worked with Afghan Airmen at the tactical level up to the service’s senior leadership to “help institutionally build” their air force.
For example, the colonel said Airmen in the AAF would go through the process of learning English during the path to becoming a pilot, but they would have to wait for a pilot training slot to open. If they weren’t put in a specific training slot, the Afghanistan National Army would take them and use them in a different function.
By creating a career field designator such as an Air Force Specialty Code, the Afghans selected for pilot training were placed in a student slot, which prevented the ANA from picking them up.
“That’s just one small example, but I’ve got a hundred other examples I can tell you of how we are literally building an air force from the ground up,” he said.
Renegar said he keeps in touch with Airmen who are continuing to build the AAF, and the service continues to be a bright spot in the country.
The colonel was also given a unique opportunity when the wing commander asked him to go through the in-theater check-out program similar to what new Afghan pilots go through to be combat mission ready in the Cessna 208 Caravan. He said the commander wanted to get the perspective of a senior officer regarding the program.
“It was an unexpected opportunity because I didn’t go over there to fly. I went over there to be the chief of staff,” he said. “When I got there, the general recognized the opportunity and need to get a senior officer in the program, so he put me in there to do that.”
The F-15C pilot was accustomed to the powerful air superiority aircraft that boasts two engines that could get him out of harm’s way in an instant, fly at 40,000 feet with weapons and a wingman. After 10 check rides, he set out on 40 combat missions without any of those comforts as the Cessna 208 is a single-engine plane that can’t fly over the Hindu Kush mountain range in the country’s northeast region, does not have weapons or an ejection seat, and a wingman isn’t flying alongside.
Renegar said the combat Cessnas were used for missions that ranged from casualty evacuations to cargo airdrops in areas that aren’t easily accessed. He said one might think the missions aren’t as complex as those of the F-15, but they are more complex because of the lack of support the Airmen and aircraft have in isolated areas of Afghanistan.
A patch the pilots wear on their flight suits says it all: “No Guns. No Armor. No Problem.”
“There was never any doubt from the Afghan Airmen or the American Airmen that we were going to go get the job done,” he said. “We were going to deliver whatever we needed to, to the FOB. We were going to move whatever troops we needed to move around and we were going to go do it single engine.
“It was really neat and an honor at the end of the day to work with such dedicated folks, both Afghan and American.”