818th MSAS, Burkinabé Partnership: Restoring Rotary Wing Capability

  • Published
  • By Maj. Stephen Nava and Master Sgt. Sarah Colwell
  • 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- The 818th Mobility Support Advisory Squadron sent a rotary wing maintenance and operations mobile training team to Burkina Faso April 5 through 20 to train and aid the partner nation in identifying the cause of significant mechanical issues impacting the Burkina Faso air force’s UH-1H helicopter fleet.  

The MSAS deployed to Base Aérienne 511 in Burkina Faso at the request of the BFAF and the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou-Office of Security Cooperation to support grounded aircraft.

This MSAS mission was a follow-on engagement from a September 2018 crew resource management MTT, in which the BFAF highlighted their maintenance challenges with the helicopters. The UH-1H helicopters are a recent addition to the BFAF fleet and will play an important role in counter-terror operations.

According to the U.S. Embassy’s security cooperation office, the Burkinabé defense forces are conducting land and air operations to neutralize jihadist threats, whose attacks have claimed nearly 300 deaths since 2015. Burkina Faso has seen a dramatic spike in attacks in the north and eastern regions of the country bordering Mali and Niger over the past couple years.  

“Our goal heading into this mission was to build upon and continue to foster the long standing partnership with Burkina Faso by helping them to improve their air mobility capacity and combat regional threats,” said Master Sgt. Sarah Colwell, 818th MSAS security forces air advisor and team sergeant for the mission. “This engagement certainly enhanced interoperability and trust with the Burkina Faso air force.”

While in Burkina Faso the advisor team identified the cause of the fleet readiness challenges.  The helicopter fleet had been grounded for nearly a year preventing the BFAF from executing casualty evacuation missions. 

Working on the aircraft with the BFAF pilots and mechanics also provided an opportunity to build personal and professional relationships.

“I was impressed with the partner nations mechanical aptitude and their initiative to learn the UH-1H helicopter,” said Master Sgt. Russ Asbel, UH-1H helicopter mechanic from the 582nd Helicopter Group, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. “Determining a problem that had grounded both of their helicopters was extremely rewarding and really helped build trust which evolved into friendship over our two-week trip.”

The MSAS team coordinated with the U.S. Embassy’s security cooperation office and developed a $1 million proposed list of parts and equipment to help the BFAF restore their aircraft back to operational flying status and continue with preventative maintenance.

In addition to the maintenance work, the advisor team’s mission was to train and advise the BFAF in rotary wing operations. The team provided instruction courses such as flight planning and systems operations, crew resource management, and preventative maintenance.

“The significance of this mission and the outcome lies with Burkina Faso being strategically situated in a difficult location with many insurgent groups operating along the long borders with Mali and Niger,” said Lt. Col. Jared Cordell, 818th MSAS assistant director of operations. The country is also a long-standing partner with the United States in the war on terror and continues to support ongoing counter-terror operations in the region.”

One of the BFAF pilots, Capt Aziz Compaore, explained how this training provided them with the necessary tools to expand their knowledge and displayed his gratitude for the efforts to the advisor team.

“Thank you to the trainers for spending two-weeks with us and sharing your experience with us to upgrade our knowledge,” Compaore said. “You have helped us to discover what’s wrong with our helicopters. Proof for us that we can work together and reach the same goal. Thank you for this training.”

During the mission, 16 partner nation personnel were trained and the team identified a clear plan to help restore the helicopters to flying status. The U.S. and Burkinabé teams shared knowledge and strategies for helicopter operations and maintenance to empower the partner nation’s capability to address regional threats.

The Burkinabé hosted a closing ceremony and said they are already planning a follow-on training event to continue progress and increase operations and maintenance proficiency for the next engagement in September 2019.

“Training events help to equip Burkina Faso with the tools to advance their ability to protect their citizens and prevent terrorist organizations from operating in their borders,” Cordell said. “Aviation has the unique ability to quickly project power, transport people and supplies, and deliver help when needed. It is essential that Burkina Faso has a professional and capable military aviation force; and the MSAS is supporting this endeavor.”