By Spc. Nathan Hoskins, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 30, 2007 - The Iraqi air force flew its first mission without the assistance of its American partners over the weekend. Iraqi pilots flew a mission to survey and monitor the power lines in Iraq in a mission called "Operation Power Line" Aug. 25, said Brig. Gen. Sati, commander of the Iraqi air force's Taji Wing, who asked to be identified by only his last name.
"We did our duties today for the very first time, and it was a 100-percent Iraqi mission," he said. Sati announced the mission at a partnership event later that day between the Iraqi air force and the U.S. Army's 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, in which the American and Iraqi servicemembers enjoyed dinner.
The mission came about because insurgents have been causing unrest throughout Iraq by cutting power lines, thus cutting off electrical power to the Iraqi people, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan Bartlett, commander of the 770th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and the Coalition Air Force Transition Team.
"There's (a proposed) Iraqi law about people keeping their distance from power lines, since there are so many dropped," said Bartlett. The Iraqi air force is taking action on this problem by surveying for downed lines and watching for anyone violating the stand-off distance, he said.
"The mission is to go outside and patrol the Iraqi power lines and to get the word out that the Iraqi air force is flying," Bartlett said.
Sati cited two reasons why the Iraqi air force has had this recent success.
"No. 1 is because of the ability of our Iraqi pilots to understand and digest the information and because of their (aviation background)," the Iraqi general said proudly. "The second reason is because of the continuous day and night help from our American brothers, who did everything we asked them for. They didn't deny us any efforts to accomplish what we wanted."
Sati said the first unaided mission represented an important milestone.
"The whole base is very happy today - extremely happy. We feel like a graduate who just graduated and got his diploma," he said.
The progress is obvious when one looks at the numbers, Bartlett said.
"To put it in context, last year this wing flew a total of 300 hours. Most of those hours were on a couple of these (Bell 206) Jet Rangers," he said. "Last month, they flew 200 hours just in the (Bell UH-1H) Huey II alone. So far, they've got about 700 hours on the aircraft, and they've only really been flying them since the end of February, first of March."
Along with keeping a watchful eye over the power lines, the Iraqi air force also has moved soldiers, dignitaries and visitors across Iraq. "They've moved about 500 passengers so far this year," Bartlett noted.
Sati and other officers of his command commemorated their milestone mission with their American partners. The Iraqi pilots and crewmembers set up three helicopters in a hangar. U.S. pilots crawled in and out of the helicopters with an Iraqi aviator close by to answer any questions, and aviators from both nations talked about their common bond of flying. Afterward, the mix of Iraqi and U.S. aviators went to the U.S. side of the forward operating base for a celebratory dinner.
(Army Spc. Nathan Hoskins is assigned to the Public Affairs Office of 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division.)