Building Enduring Relationships

Massachusetts Army National Guard Aviation Directorate participates in a Cooperative Maintenance Engagement with the Kenyan Air Force.

By Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Picard

Five Massachusetts Army National Guard (MAARNG) soldiers led by Col. Robert O’Connell, the State Army Aviation Officer of the MAARNG, participated in a cooperative maintenance engagement in Nairobi this September as part of the ongoing MANG State Partnership Program (SPP) with the Republic of Kenya. 

This engagement, the fifth aviation-centric engagement supported by the Directorate, was in support of the US/Kenyan Huey II Fielding Initiative.  This initiative involves assisting the Kenyan Air Force (KAF) to employ eight new Bell UH-1 II helicopters to provide counter-terrorism operations against Al-Shabaab militants engaging in insurgency operations throughout the East African region.

O’Connell is tapping into the few remaining UH-1 (Huey) experienced pilots and maintainers in the MAARNG to help our Kenyan partners in their ongoing counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts. 

The Venerable UH-1 Huey was MAARNG Aviation’s primary medium-lift helicopter from the early 1970s until the last Huey was retired from the inventory in 2005.  Although most of the Vietnam-era pilots, crew chiefs and maintainers have since retired, there are still several pilots long-in-the-tooth enough to have some serious Huey experience to impart to the Kenyan partners. 

Team members included Col. Bob O’Connell, SAAO, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dave Picard, State Rotary Wing Standardization Officer, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Harrington, Aviation Maintenance Technical Warrant Officer, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Pearson, Senior Crew Chief, Maintainer, and Sgt. 1st Class Mike Dion, Senior Crew Chief, maintainer.  All have significant UH-1 experience to share.

The thrust of this engagement was two-fold:

1: Shared maintenance best-practices co-opting the aforementioned MAANG Soldiers’ Huey experience.  Team members also sought to gain insight on how our East African partners conduct initial new-equipment fielding while simultaneously employing these assets against Al-Shabaab insurgents. 

During the engagement, the Massachusetts maintainers guided KAF maintainers in installing, rigging and testing an internal hoist system that will give the KAF Search and Rescue (SAR), as well as CASEVAC/MEDEVAC (casualty evacuation/medical evacuation) extraction capabilities. Pearson, who served two of his five combat deployments as a Forward Support Medical Team (FSMT) Platoon Sergeant and senior crew chief with C Co, 3-126th General Support Aviation Battalion (Air Ambulance), also conducted initial aircrew hoist training with KAF personnel, including practice extraction techniques of notional injured soldiers from a high-threat battlefield. 

KAF Senior Engineering Warrant Officer Patrick Khsakhala commended his efforts.  During the post engagement After Action Review (AAR), Khsakhala told all present that Pearson’s efforts would directly result in saving the lives of Kenyan soldiers.

2: Working with participating representatives of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), the team utilized their UH-1 specific knowledge to assess the KAF maintenance and operational processes towards a recommendation from the 160th SOAR that should allow US Army personnel to fly with KAF pilots, in KAF aircraft in future cooperative training efforts.

Future SPP/Kenyan aviation engagements, both in Kenya, and hosting KAF personnel in the U.S., are currently being planned and coordinated with the Kenyan Ministry of Defence (KMOD), the U.S. State Department, US Army AFRICOM, and the US Embassy’s Kenya/US Security Liaison Office (KUSLO).  The SAAO, consistent with The Adjutant General’s priorities, feels that building and exercising these enduring relationships provides innumerable benefits to both Massachusetts Army National Guard aviation, and their State Partner, the Republic of Kenya.

The SAAO has directed up to three aviation engagements per FY in support of the State Partnership Program.

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