CAMP TAJI, Iraq —The realization of a fully independent Iraqi army came one step nearer with a joint air assault between U.S. and IA Soldiers here, Oct. 26.
American and Iraqi ground Soldiers participated in the air assault, with both sides flying in their respective aircrafts, UH-60 Black Hawks and MI-17 Hip helicopters.
The mission was a significant occasion because of the involvement of the Iraqi air force, said 1st Lt. Bradley Whitnell, from Chicago, executive officer, Company D, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
"This is a pretty important event because we've managed to partner ourselves with the Iraqi air force," he said. "This makes it the first truly joint American/Iraqi air assault across the board, from aviation all the way down to the ground units."
The air assault was the result of extensive training between both sides.
"It's a unique experience for us because at the ground level we've been integrated the entire time we've been out here," Whitnell said. "But in terms of across the spectrum, combined arms, this is the first real culminating event of the joint experience that we've seen."
Whitnell said the Iraqi ground forces have come a long way from slow beginnings.
"They're at the point now where the intelligence driving the operation is Iraqi intelligence. We did a combined rehearsal with American and Iraqi aviation and ground forces, so in terms of their sophistication and capabilities it's really been impressive."
The aviation support from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade was outstanding, Whitnell said.
"They have been great help for us and are really surging to support this operation, with the birds and the Blues Platoon. They've given us everything they've got this morning and have been a big help in the planning process. The mission definitely couldn't have happened without them."
The air assault was a major first for the 1st Cav. Div. in Iraq, said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Metzger, commander, 3rd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB.
"Today we have an assault battalion working with the Iraqi's for the first time," Metzger said. "We had a couple of training exercises, but this is the first time we'll do a real world mission with them."
"Hopefully this will get both countries working better for future missions so they can continue to expand their role on how they provide security for the Iraqi people," he said.
Metzger said the Iraqi's have steadily developed during the first half of the current 1st ACB deployment.
"The [Iraqi] pilots are super pilots, but then again we have to remember they're Iraqi air force, which is just like [U.S.] Air Force and Army learning to work together," Metzger said. "Here we have two different worlds. These guys are experienced pilots but they just haven't done a lot of air assault stuff in the last five to 10 years."
The air assault exercise would be a learning curve for the Iraqi pilots, Metzger said.
"It's something very new for them to experience air assaults into a [landing zone], so I think it will be a great capability for them to add to their arsenal," he said.
The training had taken a crawl, walk, run approach, Metzger said, but the air assault is definitely the run stage for the Iraqi's.
"They are now running pretty fast," Metzger said. "This is a complex mission, but I think we have the right control measures and we absolutely have the right pilots both on the Iraqi and American side to make this work."