News: Fostering partnership with Iraqi air force
Story by Sgt. Alun Thomas
AL TAJI AIR BASE, Iraq — For two militaries separated by mere walls here, the distance between the U.S. and Iraqi forces seems like a barrier few climb, let alone get an opportunity to see over the top of.
A healthy relationship between the two sides is not only important, but also necessary, as the U.S. prepares to hand control of the country over the Iraqi forces under the articles of the Security Agreement.
Col. Douglas Gabram, from Cleveland, Ohio, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade's commander, helped facilitate this partnership between the two sides by making a goodwill visit to the Iraqi air force, June 18, at al-Taji air base.
Gabram met with Brig. Gen. Nadhem Lafta al-Ajwdi, commander of al-Taji Airbase, to discuss issues concerning both sides and said the main reason for the visit was to develop a partnership with the Iraqi air force.
"It's important because we're here to protect the local population and increase security," Gabram said. "The Iraqi's have to take things back and part of it is their air force, which has come a long way since last time I saw them."
Gabram said the 1st ACB is capable of helping the Iraqi's in various ways, including operations, maintenance and air traffic control.
"That's what we are going to try and do during our year here," Gabram said of the assistance the 1st ACB will offer.
The visit promoted goodwill between the two sides, but Gabram said there is more to be achieved than simply good ties.
"It was a goodwill visit, but we have to build on that, because we can talk a lot, but actions speak louder than words," Gabram said.
One of the issues discussed during the visit was the Iraqi's request for a controller in the airfield control tower to help facilitate tower operations and make it easier to communicate with Iraqi aircraft.
Al-Ajwdi, said he wants to ensure safety between both Iraqi and 1st ACB aircraft, which is why he feels an Iraqi presence is required in the tower.
"I want all our aircraft and crew to come back alive and safe," al-Ajwdi said. "To achieve that, we need a control officer in the tower to help the Iraqi pilots while they are airborne."
Equally as important is the experience the Iraqi air force will gain from being in the control tower, al-Ajwdi said.
"It will teach us how to handle situations better by working with the American control officers," al-Ajwdi said. "Instead of sending our officers to courses to learn this, we can use the American equipment which is more modern."
Gabram accepted the request and said it would be beneficial to both sides.
"When an Iraqi makes a call from an aircraft, the translation is sometimes a barrier," Gabram said. "If they have an emergency, that will help us understand what they need."
The Iraqi's gave Gabram and other 1st ACB party members a tour of the air base, before enjoying a meal, which Gabram said capped off a successful visit.
"They treated us great and we are going to have them ... over here to continue the relationship at company and battalion level," Gabram said. "We can show them our operation centers, our medevac procedures and maintenance."
The day was a momentous one for al-Ajwdi, who said the visit was productive for him and his staff.
"The visit was very pleasing and useful for us," al-Ajwdi said. "I have a feeling we will co-operate well."
Furthermore, the occasion was joyous and will be remembered for a long time, he said.
"Happy moments are few in the human life, and today I lived one of them."