By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Hunt
Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The Iraqi air force received four new MI17 helicopters on Camp Taji, Oct. 31, 2008, to add to its fleet of more than 50 rotary wing aircraft throughout Iraq.
The IAF have begun beefing-up their fleet of Huey and MI17 helicopters; in the past eight months, the IAF has grown in capabilities from just one helicopter to the fleet it currently possess.
Airmen from the IAF have been training with U.S. Air Force Airmen from the 770th Air Expeditionary Advisor Squadron, Coalition Air Force Transition Team, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
"We are teaching them flying, door gunning, maintenance and loading the weapons systems," said Air Force Master Sgt. Warren McCullough, from Harrison, Ark., who serves as the flight safety and squadron first sergeant. "The school house we have here on Camp Taji teaches the Iraqis basic English, multiple aviation occupational specialties and hands on training over here on the airfield."
The Airmen from Eglin Air Force Base, based in Florida, are on a one-year tour teaching the Iraqi airmen how to perform full-spectrum aviation operations. The school classifies the Iraqis in three skill categories – level-three, level-five and level-seven.
Level-three is an Iraqi airman who has just started the training and has to have supervision at all times while performing his duties. A level-five airman is similar to a non-commissioned officer or junior officer in the U.S. Air Force, who can perform duties with little or no supervision. Level-seven are supervisors, such as senior NCOs or senior officers, who are capable of performing duties with no supervision. Level-seven requires years of schooling and experience. The majority of Iraqi airmen at the school are level-three and level-five trainees.
"These [new helicopters] will help us tremendously," said IAF Col. Salam Hassan, commander of Squad 15 on Camp Taji. "They will support the special forces through transporting and in the future combat operations when we have completed our training.
"The Americans help with everything, to include training and operations," said the jubilant Iraqi colonel on the camp north of Baghdad. "I think the training is very good, and the American pilots have a lot of experience."
Although much smaller, the MI17 helicopters are compared much to the American CH-47F Chinook helicopters in terms of how they are used. They are Russian-made and are used for transporting personal, equipment and combat operations, such as air assaults and air insertion missions.
Currently, the aircraft are being used by the United Nations, the Czech Air Force, the Royal Thai Army, Saudi Arabia and of course Russia.
"Our job is to train and advice this counter-terrorism squadron," said Lt. Col. William Rowell, director of operations. "We expect 22 more MI17 helicopters by the end of the year. By 2010, their fleet will grow substantially."
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