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    Give and take, teach and learn: Building an Iraqi air force

    Tech. Sgt. Francks works with one of his propulsion students

    Courtesy Photo | Tech. Sgt. Charles Francks, deployed from the 86th Maintenance Squadron, Ramstein Air...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

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    By Tech. Sgt. Paul Dean
    407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
    January 5, 2006

    ALI BASE, Iraq --Reality is often at odds with preconceptions or expectations when Airmen deploy. This difference can be extreme when the mission is to provide military training to a recent adversary.

    But several Airmen near the end of six month deployments as advisory support team instructors here say they would rather stay deployed than go home after their experiences here. During their deployment they've have had a chance to directly help shape the future of the world, learn about and gain respect for a different culture, meet men they now call brothers, and solidify their instinctive belief that the United States Air Force is the greatest in the world.

    "It wasn't like I was on the fence before I came, I volunteered to do this," said Tech. Sgt. John Furber, deployed from the 463rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. "But now I know I've been part of something really big. I have a stake in it now; I know [the Iraqi air force men] and have a lot of respect for what they're doing."

    The Iraqi air force airmen live and work with their American counterparts here. The tent city at Ali Base has no walls or concertina wire separating Coalition partners (or Iraqi's from them). Everybody lives together, shares the fitness center, laundry, library, recreational centers and dining facility. The men of the Iraqi air force share family photos, important events in their lives and perspectives on the past and hopes for the future with U.S. Airmen.

    Centered on the stand up of a self-reliant Iraqi airlift squadron, the mission here is one of rebuilding fences and is focused on the future. The only attention given to the past seems to be an appreciation for the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

    "I'm taking away a sense that we've become part of the same family," said Tech. Sgt. Mike Garrison, deployed from the 314th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Little Rock. "These men are no different from us. Americans fight and die for their country and these guys did the same thing. They love their families and their country, and are glad we got rid of Saddam [Hussein]. We are brothers."

    This new relationship between the Iraqi's and the Americans has come a long way during the past year.

    One of the Iraqi air force maintainers was stationed here at Ali Base during Gulf War 1. He saw his commander get killed during the first night of Shock and Awe. Today the maintainer is learning to repair the C-130Es gifted to the Iraqi air force by the United States in January 2005.

    The advisory support team instructors are assigned to the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron here; the Iraqi air force airmen belong to Squadron 23 (Transport), which stood up Jan. 14, 2005. The relationship between the squadrons was labeled last month as 'the greatest training success story in the Iraqi air force," by Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, deputy combined forces air component commander, who accompanied Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne on a visit to the base.

    "We've come a long way," said Senior Master Sgt. George Godsey, also deployed from the 463rd, Little Rock, part of a group leaving for home this week.

    "When [group two] got here the training of the new Iraqi air force was well under way. We were able to kick things into the next gear, take [the Iraqi maintainers] to another level," said Sergeant Godsey. "Now success is up to them. We've given them the tools to make it, but it's up to them to make it or break it."

    Squadron 23 (Transport) is scheduled to move to their permanent home at New Al Muthana Air Base, Baghdad International Airport, within the next few weeks. And although the squadron will not be self-reliant when they get to their new home, each day brings them closer.

    Language barriers seem to be the only remaining stumbling block, said Sergeant Garrison. "The [maintenance reference materials] are all in English, but other than that problem these guys are running at full speed. They've made huge strides; they know the airframe and know the systems."

    English instruction, which is temporarily on hold while the squadron relocates, will continue when Squadron 23 (Transport) arrives at New Al Muthana said Maj. Jed McCray, 777th EAS AST maintenance flight commander, deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

    The major, who will also redeploy in the next few weeks, is also taking away just as much, if not more, than he brought with him to the training mission. Most importantly, Major McCray said he's developed a greater respect for what the United States is trying to do in Iraq and it's part in the GWOT; an enhanced appreciation and respect for those who have to make the top level decisions; a true appreciation for the Iraqi people; and a solid belief in Air Force institutions and standards.

    "Many of these [Iraqi] men are doing this for their country," Major McCray said. "They give up a lot being away from their families, because for most Iraqi's, family is everything.
    "And they still can't wear [their Iraqi air force] insignia on their chest or tell their neighbors that they're leaving for duty with the air force."

    Iraqi air force members and their families are targets for enemy retribution and therefore protect their identities closely.

    The ability of the Air Force to train the Iraqi's is due to the standards and programs within the U.S. system, said Major McCray.

    "Our training programs, empowerment of the noncommissioned officer ranks and strong discipline standards have been highlighted by this experience. We've showed the world that our model is the right one," Major McCray said.

    These standards and the Air Force way of doing business will continue to be taught until the Iraqi air force is self-sufficient. It isn't an event found on a timeline, rather, the point when the United States has done everything necessary to help Iraq defend its sovereign skies and fly their own missions toward that end.

    Tech. Sgt. Charles Francks, deployed from the 86th Maintenance Squadron, Ramstein Air Base, GE, is one of the recently arrived replacement AST instructors who hopes to take the Iraqi air force closer to the finish line.

    "I really believe we need to train the Iraqi air force properly" to make sure they are a capable force. I think what we're doing here today will ensure that the Iraqi Air Force can secure their freedom in the future," said Sergeant Francks. "And I really wanted to be a part of that."

    "The ultimate achievement will be the day I see one of these Iraqi air crews out with us flying cargo into someplace together. I really think that will happen, and as AST instructors we're proud to have been a part of that," said Sergeant Garrison.



    Date Taken: 01.05.2006
    Date Posted: 01.05.2006 13:35
    Story ID: 4286
    Location: ALI BASE, IQ 

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