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    Iraqi military relocates choppers after US contract ends

    Iraqi military relocates choppers after US contract ends

    Courtesy Photo | A fleet of Iraqi helicopters await their final takeoff here, March 1. The entire fleet...... read more read more



    Story by Tech. Sgt. Randy Redman 

    321st Air Expeditionary Wing

    The Iraqi Army Aviation Command transferred more than a dozen military helicopters from Kirkuk to Habbaniyah, Iraq, beginning March 1. Following the end of the flight-training contract between the IqAAC and the U.S. in January, nine OH-58 Kiowas and five Bell Jet Rangers were relocated by Iraqi pilots over the course of four days.

    According to Lt. Col. Paul Griffith, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group deputy commander, these aircraft were used to conduct initial entry rotary wing, instructor pilot, instrument qualification upgrade and refresher training for the IqAAC. Additionally, they were used for formal and on-the-job training for rotary-wing, aviation mechanic training.

    "This is both a very sad and very happy day. I think I speak for all involved when I say we will miss training and assisting our army aviation counterparts here," said Griffith. "At the same time, we know our partnership won't end, but mature. We should all be proud to see their decision to assume yet greater roles in independently sustaining their force and our mission's contribution to IqAAC's increased readiness to provide for Iraq's internal and external defense."

    The flying training at Kirkuk was conducted by the U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization's technical assistance field team, including Westar contractors, under their oversight as part of Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air operations. The training program was established in spring 2007 and has produced a large contingency of capable Iraqi pilots in the last several years. There are more than 70 IERW graduates, two fully-qualified instructor pilots and 17 aviation mechanics, phase one alumni.

    Following initial entry training, IqAAC pilots transferred to their assigned squadrons where they entered training in one of the IqAAC operational helicopter platforms. Platform and operational qualification training is conducted by IqAAC squadrons with the 721st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron at Camp Taji advising their squadrons and assisting in training pilots in the UH-1Huey, Mi-17/171, Mi-17 Multi Mission Helo and T-407 aircraft.

    The decision by Iraq to move the helicopters this soon was not in the grand scheme of things; however, things don't always go as planned on the "battlefield." As U.S. advisors strive to remain flexible and adapt to this decision, Lt. Col. Darrin Valha, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group Rotary Wing Operations deputy commander, said he feels the groundwork has been laid for long-term success.

    "The future pilots and maintainers of the IqAAC received quality training at the schoolhouse in Kirkuk and now have a solid foundation of knowledge and procedures to build upon as they assume the role as trainers and instructors in IqAAC," said Valha.

    Army Lt. Col. Michael Hales, USASATMO aviation chief, said the relocation of the aircraft and the end of training at Kirkuk was bittersweet.

    "On one hand, the Iraqis have chosen to close a quality flight school that has and was consistently producing U.S. trained students. Now it is truly up to them to produce quality trained army aviators on their own," said Hales.

    While the pilots are getting a bulk of the attention, it's not clear whether Iraqi mechanics will be transferring to the new location yet. Westar contractors provided contract logistics support for the IqAAC helicopters and conducted aviation mechanics training under the 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron's oversight. The mechanics' training will end this month in conjunction with the transition of the CLS contract. At this point, neither the IqAAC nor Ministry of Defense has made a decision whether to extend or pursue another maintenance contract.

    "We stand committed to consider further logistics and training support requirements, should IqAAC request [it] in the future, and will continue to advise IqAAC leadership throughout their transition of the IERW mission to Habbaniyah," said Griffith.

    With only ten months to go before the planned U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Hales acknowledged what must feel like seeing a son move away from home.

    "We've trained them; they know what right looks like, and now it's time for them to take flight on their own. I wish them the best and much success."



    Date Taken: 03.05.2011
    Date Posted: 03.07.2011 02:03
    Story ID: 66603
    Location: KIRKUK, IQ 

    Web Views: 272
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