Robins colonel lends hand to new program Published Nov. 13, 2009 By Kendahl Johnson 78 ABW/PA ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- The Department of Defense plans to turn hundreds of military personnel into experts on the fight in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, and one Robins officer will be among the group. Lt. Col. Tom Ficklin has vacated his position as the 78th Mission Support Group's deputy commander to participate in the fledgling program, known as Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands, or APH. "I am very excited," Ficklin said. "I think it's important to seek out opportunities where you can step up and make a difference and become a strategic game changer." The aim of the program is to assemble about 300 specially-selected military men and women - mostly officers - from all branches of service who will cultivate proficiencies in counterinsurgency. "The APH program will enhance continuity and focus ... by developing and utilizing our best Airmen," said Gen. Carrol Chandler, vice chief of staff, in a memo about the program. "These Airmen will immerse themselves in the language and culture of the region, becoming a select and elite cadre." APH participants will be vested in the program for a period of three to five years, requiring multiple rotations between their home stations and the AOR. At any given time, half the participants will be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Ficklin is currently undergoing a four-month specialized training program in Rosslyn, Va., that includes language and culture immersion. Once completed, he will deploy to Afghanistan for 365 days, where he will serve as the International Security Forces' theater head of contracts. He said having a core cadre of servicemembers that remain focused on local issues for an extended period rather than constantly rotating new faces will create continuity and improve relations with foreign leaders. While many of the program's participants were selected or assigned, Ficklin joins the team as volunteer. "Part of the appeal was I knew they would teach me a language, and I've always wanted to learn another language," Ficklin said. "Another neat thing is that senior leadership supports this program 100 percent. I believe I'll have the chance to do things outside my assigned duties, based on my unique background and experience." He said being away from his family - he is married with four children - on a regular basis for six- or 12-month deployments will be difficult. He is grateful they have been supportive of him volunteering for this unique opportunity.