Story by: Master Sgt. Kimberley Harrison
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — The first students to in-process into the freshly re-opened Iraqi Air Force College began their flight-screening program March 20 as part of a special T-6A pilot-training course.
The course is instructed by Airmen assigned to the 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron, part of the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air Force effort here.
"We are happy because this is the first group of Iraqi pilots who will start training with our friends from the American side," said Lt. Gen. Anwar Humad Amen Ahmed, Iraqi air force commander. "This is a big day for the Iraqi air force."
More than 20 Iraqi air force hopefuls were selected to participate in the program. Four students, who either scored high on the required English test or already had flying experience, advanced into the flight-training phase March 29.
"English language skills are a critical part of the selection process because English is the international language of aviation," said Brig. Gen. Scott Hanson, Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air Force director, and 321st Air Expeditionary Wing commander.
The second wave of trainees from the initial group will begin the academic phase in the next month.
Whether the first wave included four or 20 trainees, getting the Iraqi Air Force College off the ground with this initial T-6 class is considered a positive step in the right direction for the future of the Iraqi air force.
"Today is the beginning of a very opportunistic future," Hanson said. "This marks the next step in the advancement of the Iraqi air force's pilot-training capabilities...the pilots who have been selected to start training will likely be the initial cadre of instructor pilots for the Iraqi air force."
The Airmen of the 52nd EFTS are molding Iraq's T-6 instructor pilots, who will in turn rebuild Iraq's air sovereignty through their own instruction.
"The significance of the initial screening program is to give the Iraqi Air Force the chance to see what the T-6 can do," said Lt. Col. Jeff "Jelly" Myer, 52nd EFTS director of operations, deployed from MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. "None of the trainees or graduates of their pilot training program — up to this point — have had a chance to fly in the T-6," "This training will give them an introduction into what the airplane is capable of doing and what they can possibly expect down the line as their country progresses and gets more advanced weapons platforms."
A brighter hope for an independent Iraqi air force begins with this training and is highly anticipated by its initial students.
"I'm very happy to be part of this course...this [training] will result in Iraqi forces defending ourselves in the face of danger," said Iraqi Air Force 1st Lt. Harith Nabil.
Equal sentiments are shared by one of his classmates.
"I am actually looking forward to start the course," said Iraqi Air Force 1st Lt. Muslem Akeel Abdulrasaq. "It is going to be very interesting--it's a completely different world. We can start looking at the future of the Iraqi air force and get started with the trainees who are going to follow us."
The single-engine, two-seat advanced trainer, which is also used in the U.S. Air Force's training program, may be the foundation for the future of the Iraqi Air Force pilot corps.
"It's a complement of good power, good maneuverability, and basic aircraft systems-- as far as teaching the students from the ground up," said Capt. Dan Fiedler, 52nd EFTS T-6A instructor pilot. "It's single engine so it's a good simple platform for the students to begin training."
"The T6s are very important for the Iraqi air force. I often say the T-6 is like the mother of our air force," Anwar said.
The first class will undoubtedly encounter challenges, as is usual for any first-time endeavor, but the students are optimistic and encouraged that one of their classmates, Lt. Col. Humid Hussein, is slotted to be the Iraq's first T-6A squadron commander.
"He is a very capable man," Akeel said. "I can see a lot in him...he wants to build a very good Iraqi air force."
Iraqi air force students aren't the only ones excited to be part of this revolutionary program.
"I have never gotten more job satisfaction," Feidler said. "These are guys who are coming in and their dream in many cases is to fly in high-performance military aircraft and I am helping them realize that dream. To do that with these Iraqi pilots is cutting edge. I get to be a part of the initial set of people getting to teach the Iraqi airmen how to do this, and for them it's not just the dream of getting to fly an airplane ... it's the dream of building their country."
"I'm very proud...these pilots will be the future for the Iraqi air force," Anwar said.
"This is a challenging program, but it will be rewarding and they will be the beginning of the future of the Iraqi air force," Hanson said.
Editor's Note: When the 52nd EFTS completes the initial screening process, it is anticipated there will be four classes, each consisting of 12 students, quarterly to take part in: 11-month, T-6 Primary pilot training course; 1.5-month, T-6 Advanced pilot training course, which emphasizes formation maneuvering; and finally, four-month, T-6 pilot instructor training.