Eleven Salvadoran airmen returned to El Salvador from Afghanistan on February 28. During their deployment, the group filled the roles of aviation advisors and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) liaison officers (LNOs), positions which have been filled by U.S. service members inthepast.
The partnership between the United States and El Salvador is a long-standing one. Not only does El Salvador host a joint air force base at Comalapa that serves as a platform for regional drug interdiction missions, but it has also contributed military personnel to assist with international peacekeeping missions in Iraq, Haiti and Lebanon. Currently, El Salvador is the only country in the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) focus area that contributes forces to Afghanistan.
“As chief of the Salvadoran Air Force, I am very proud that our personnel can be a part of such an active mission and support an important role of another air force,” said Salvadoran Col. Carlos Mena, chief of the Salvadoran Air Force. “They know that they are contributing to maintain the peace worldwide, specifically in Afghanistan.”
To prepare for this deployment, Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH) was instrumental in facilitating the process, from requisitioning the necessary equipment to recommending pre-deployment training. These are all roles familiar to SOCSOUTH as its members use small units in military actions focused on strategic or operational objectives with partners throughout the region. SOCSOUTH, based in Homestead, Florida, is responsible for all U.S. Special Operations activities in the Caribbean, Central and South America; it serves as a component for SOUTHCOM.
“Having expert advisors who had already been there, as well as having a team of volunteers for this Afghanistan mission made training easier,” said Col. Mena.
The Salvadoran airmen said that while the training prepared them for their deployment to Afghanistan, there were some realities that could only be taught through first-hand experiences. After the 10-month deployment for the nine aviation advisors and eight-month deployment for the three ISAF LNOs, some of those realities were encouraging.
“Most of the time, you know that the news usually shows only the bad side, the shocking news, but once you’re in theater you realize that Afghanistan has changed a lot,” said Salvadoran Col. Manuel Calderon, who deployed to Camp Arena in Herat, Afghanistan. “You are now able to see female children going to school and you see some women on the street not wearing burqas; it’s getting better.”
Lt. Col. Joel Quintanilla, who deployed to the ISAF head quarters as a logistics staff officer in Kabul, Afghanistan, said, “The most rewarding part for me was helping to develop a better future for the people of Afghanistan.”
The peacekeeping role will increasingly become the responsibility of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners like El Salvador as the U.S. continues to bring troops home from Afghanistan.
“As the U.S. administration begins its withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. service members will have to be replaced with partner nations,” said U.S. Army Maj. David Schulz, deputy army section chief at the Military Group in El Salvador.
El Salvador has an upcoming deployment that will replace U.S. troops in a role that will take them outside the wire as they directly partner with Afghan Police. This particular mission will be supported by 13 Salvadoran military personnel. U.S. Special Operations Forces personnel will be partnering with the Salvadorans when they train at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, later this year.
In order to help prepare the team, Maj. Schulz coordinated a pre-deployment site survey and traveled with a team of five Salvadoran officers to Afghanistan for two weeks to meet U.S. and NATO leadership, to modify equipment requisitions as needed, and to meet their Afghan counterparts.
As Afghanistan works to establish and maintain stability in all regions of their country, NATO forces including military-to-military partners like the United States and El Salvador continue to support them. These partnerships not only illustrate the similarities of our militaries, but also strengthen the values and bonds shared among service members.