As a provider of a multitude of aviation, cargo, flight and infrastructure services in some of the most austere and remote locations in the world, SkyLink Aviation operates in a tough business, where it relies on diverse teams to execute difficult work across long and irregular hours.
But, rather than a potential source of conflict, SkyLink embraces this diversity. Active holiday festivities and support for those in need show how the teams work to transcend their cultural differences as a unifying source of strength in support of their mission and beyond.
“We see ourselves as single team working together in a very challenging environment,” said Tracy Munday, SkyLink’s Theater Director for Afghanistan, where the company has been active since 2002.
“There is a very evident and true sense of caring about one another,” added David Dacquino, who made visiting different locations in Afghanistan an early priority of his when he took over as CEO of the firm in July.
That caring and level of commitment was on full display during the recent typhoon in the Philippines. SkyLink team members came together to donate personal money that amounted to 60 percent of the cost of rebuilding one of their teammates homes that was completely destroyed in the storm.
The team member lost close to every worldly possession he had in the storm and SkyLink immediately arranged for his return there where he is attending to his family on an accomodating extended vacation and will continue to be supported via his salary.
“The shared burdens and challenges we work through on a daily basis have helped to bring our folks together both as coworkers and as people,” Munday said. “I see this as a fine example of how a diverse group of people can come together and support one of our own when they are truly in need.”
While all team members in Afghanistan speak English, the international language of aviation, more than 20 languages and native dialects are spoken across SkyLink teams in Afghnistan, which features a melting pot of Asian, African, European, Indian and North American cultures and 18 nationalities.
“Day to day it is not unusual to see borsch, fried chicken and curry dishes served together on our buffet,” Munday said.
For the upcoming holiday season, SkyLink will provide special meals for the team, including for those who celebrate the Western Christmas on Dec. 25 and those who celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.
Many of the team members’ customs from their homes filter their way into the SkyLink team as they celebrate the holidays (see surrounding pictures.) Members of the team shared some of those experiences with us.
To Marian Erilla, an administrative clerk in Kandahar, the most exciting part of the holiday season back home – beating out group trips to Jerusalem and “games such as stop dance,” – “is eating different foods that I can experience only during Christmas season.”
Where she is from in the Philippines, Sheree Lyn Mamaril, a travel clerk with SkyLink in Kandahar, typically gathers with her family for the ‘Noche Buena’ on Christmas Eve, a meal consisting of everything from pork adobo, rice, vegetables, buko salad, sweet ham, spaghetti and arroz caldo.
“Every year, my family, including my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, gather at our house to visit, eat tons of food, sing karaoke, exchange gifts, drink alcohol and have a good time,” Mamaril said.
“We put in the Christmas tree with my family, decorated with stars, bells, different angels and multi colored Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling of our living room,” Mamaril added.
“As a family, we also attend Christmas eve services in our church, a tradition.”
Decorating is also an important part of Inventory Control Clerk Pauline Munyao’s family tradition in Kenya, a country whose major centers like Nairobi may appear as “ghost towns” during the holiday season, Munyao said, as many people return from their jobs in the towns and cities to spend time with their family in their home villages.
“We do slaughter a cow or a goat or sheep depending with number of members present and exchange gifts,” Munyao said. “The kids perform dramas and singing and later in the afternoon they go to the market place.”
“For adults we sit in small groups close together as we share stories.”
SkyLink has provided services to clients in Afghanistan including the Defense Department, NATO, UAE Special Operations Command, and USAID and recently formed an aviation and logistics services joint venture with the only Afghan airline to be compliant with the rules and regulations of the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority.
The company currently receives, trans loads and ships all U.S. troop rations into the country.
“We have shipped everything from tooth brushes to Main Battle Tanks both into and out of theater,” Munday said.
SkyLink’s operations are co-located with the ISAF Regional Commands out of five bases in Afghanistan, with its largest in Kandahar serving as its center for operations, administration and support. Managers at its four other bases at Camp Bastion, Herat, Mazar e Sharif and Kabul call into Kandahar to coordinate and report on plans.
The professionals who execute SkyLink’s aviation, ground handling, life support and other services in Afghanistan live with up to one other roommate in 8 x 20 foot housing units featuring air, heat, closed circuit television, bureaus, desks and chairs.
The camps themselves self-generate or purchase all utilities from local vendors and feature Internet and recreational facilities for all to use. To keep it all running, SkyLink employ a staff capable of maintaining its complete infrastructure. “With few exceptions, nothing beyond the land our camps sit on is provided,” Munday said.
SkyLink’s team members are self-reliant in most ways too. Routing six days a week from sunrise to sunset, SkyLink’s team conducts all of its maintenance “short of a total aircraft overhaul” on site, maintains its spare parts and oversees all operations through quality assurance and safety groups.
On a given day that could require ground handling for smaller cargo aircraft through 747s and AN-124/225s, helicopter repairs, and work with commercial and government clients.