By Air Force Staff Sgt. Ruth Curfman
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 6, 2008 - An Air Force major here is returning to the United States from Iraq more than a year after he expected to be home. Maj. Jiro McCoy, commander of Mi-17 multirole helicopter advisors for 770th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, finally is heading home to Fort Rucker, Ala., after voluntarily adding more than 18 months to what was supposed to be a six-month deployment.
"I had certain expectations regarding our mission here," McCoy said. "There were goals and objectives I wanted to see the Iraqis achieve, so I extended for six months twice. Now that I have seen the progress that they have made, especially in the tactical employment of the helicopters needed for this combat zone, I feel comfortable leaving."
The 770th AEAS is responsible for training and assisting two Iraqi air force squadrons in the process of setting up their own helicopter wing here.
"We have been tasked by the 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group, which is overseen by the Coalition Air Force Transition Team in Iraq, to assess, advise, educate, train and assist the IAF helicopter wing personnel on providing counterinsurgency operations via air support," the major said. "This process will help us to transition the security of this country back to the Iraqis by providing them the tools to develop operations, maintenance and support capabilities through the establishment of self-sustaining training programs."
These programs, which offer training of air crew, maintenance, logistics and support personnel, do not come without obstacles, he said.
"One of the biggest challenges we face is the language barrier," McCoy said. "This is especially important when we are trying to train the IAF students how to fly, and we are using English-speaking air traffic control."
Although the language barrier requires more creative ways of communicating, the Jackson Hole, Wyo., native has experienced these challenges before, he said.
"I was previously deployed here in March 2005," the major said. "At that time, this idea was in its infancy and we were the first advisory team to arrive. Our first task was to find a way to organize the IAF in order to allow them to operate more like a wing."
At the time, however, the advisors had to rely on books and electronic presentations.
"Once we were able to actually provide visual, hands-on demonstrations, the Iraqis' morale and motivation increased substantially," he said. "We were able to take everything we discussed and show them how to put our theories into action. The IAF personnel are very interested in learning from us, but they are a visual culture, and their strengths lie in being able to actually carry out the actions, as opposed to just talking about it."
The major proved to be instrumental in getting the Iraqi pilots back in the air and performing missions in support of maintaining the country's national sovereignty.
"When Major McCoy first arrived here, they had no aircraft and were not flying at all," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Daley, the 770th AEAS commander, deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md. "He took them from zero flying missions to having four squadrons that are flying daily combat missions in Iraq with three different types of helicopters."
Although many of the Iraqi students came to the squadron with many years of experience as pilots from Saddam Hussein's military, there was still quite a bit of training that had to take place for them to be operational.
"They definitely have the flying expertise in the Mi-17s, and they end up teaching us a lot about that particular aircraft," McCoy said. "However, we are transitioning them to the UH-60 Hueys and OH-58 Kiowas as well, and they are not used to employing the tactical operations which are needed for this type of a combat zone environment."
In addition to training the Iraqis on aircraft maneuvers, the trainers work on having a more personal relationship with the trainees.
"Major McCoy has become a close personal friend and confidant to just about every Iraqi air force member on Taji base," Daley said. "The time he has taken to build personal relationships has given him the trust of the Iraqis here and the ability to help them build an effective rotary-wing force."
This mission is not only important to the major, but to the Iraqi military as well.
"Rotary-wing capability is critical to transporting people and supplies quickly and safely throughout the country and enabling security personnel to move more rapidly around the country to preempt or respond to security problems," Daley said. "Once this wing is fully operational, the IAF squadrons will be able to provide the government of Iraq the flexibility and functionality it needs to maintain its own internal security."
However, this mission would be more difficult if the squadrons did not share the relationships on a personal level.
"We spend a lot of time just talking or drinking chai with our Iraqi counterparts, which ultimately helps us to better understand each other and the differences between our cultures," the major said. "This also allows us to establish a rapport that ultimately transfers over to our training areas and is instrumental in being able to communicate our ideas better, regardless of the language barriers."
Although the language barrier is difficult to work with, somehow McCoy has been able to relate with the Iraqis on a common middle ground.
"Major McCoy is the epitome of a great advisor," Daley said. "He understands that, in order to be a good advisor, you have to become a part of the organization you are advising. Major McCoy has been most influential by building trust and having the ability to influence by showing he truly cares and empathizes with their situation."
However, the major also has been affected personally by this deployment.
"To be a part of such a unique and important mission has been challenging and especially rewarding," he said. "Knowing I was able to help to teach a foreign country how to increase their defense capabilities is a great feeling. I believe I have gotten them far enough along, and now it's time to go back, regroup and possibly come back at a later date. But I leave here knowing the Iraqi students are able to do it on their own, so we have achieved our goal."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Ruth Curfman serves with 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.)