A Truly Historical Mission

July 22, 2013—Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan—Andrew Billman wanted to teach history. He sent out about 200 curriculum vitae to junior colleges and liberal arts schools, but only received two interviews. Then, an Air Force history position popped up on a job search data base and Billman decided to apply.

To his surprise, the Air Force offered him the job. Since then, Billman, who is based at Ramstein AB, Germany, has deployed four times—once to US Central Command headquarters at MacDill AFB, Fla., once to Iraq, and twice to Afghanistan.

He now serves as one of three Air Force historians in Afghanistan tasked with documenting the service’s role in the United States’ longest war for future generations to study and learn from. One of the other two historians is serving in Kabul, while the second is working from Bagram Airfield.

From his office here, Billman collects between 5,000 and 10,000 documents a month on all the missions conducted by the members of Kandahar’s 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. For particularly significant missions, he also interviews the wing commander, vice commander, and mission participants.

Transcripts from those interviews are included with the rest of the documents that he collects and then attaches to a roughly 75-page monthly classified report that is passed on to 9th Air Force and the Air Force Historical Research Agency, Billman told the Daily Report during a July 13 interview.

The Air Force will eventually declassify the reports, although that likely won’t occur for several decades, and then use them to write the official book on the service’s role in Operation Enduring Freedom.

In the meantime, Billman said he sometimes fields requests from commanders asking how the Air Force has conducted similar missions in the past.

“Thirty years from now, we’ll have information detailing exactly how we retrograded out of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” said Billman.

The Air Force has, by far, “the most extensive historical program” of all the military services, he said.

The Army, which also deploys historians to the field, comes in a close second, he said.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, doesn’t deploy historians for months at a time. Instead, it sends out history action teams to collect information and then bring it back to Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., said Billman.

The Navy doesn’t really send people out at all, he said.