American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2009 - In developments this month, the Iraqi air force graduated its first intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircrew members and dedicated three new buildings that will increase its capabilities. The first class of Iraqi Air Force Squadron 87 King Air ISR aircrew members completed their year-long training, which culminated with a graduation ceremony at New Al Muthana Air Base May 17.
The Iraqi King Air program, headed up by U.S. Air Force and Navy aircrew instructors, has trained four Iraqi pilots, seven co-pilots and five mission sensor operators.
"We are about at the halfway point where we can call (the Iraqis) independent and autonomous," U.S. Air Force Col. John Rutkowski, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander, said about Iraq's ISR capabilities. "They have five ISR platforms that (the Iraqis) have already used for pilgrimages, border patrols and to secure the voting stations during the January 31 Iraqi elections."
Rutkowski said he expects Squadron 87 to be fully operational in their ISR mission with another year of instruction from their U.S. counterparts.
"Hopefully in about a year they will have 10 crews that can fly ISR missions, which (will) give them the foundation to meet the needs of Iraq," said the colonel, who is deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill., and is a native of Wyandotte, Mich.
The task of teaching the Iraqis this new ISR capability has been a challenge but has also been very gratifying, an instructor with Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
"(The Iraqis) came in with great enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn to help defend their country," said U.S. Tech. Sgt. Darnell Gordon, who is deployed from Tinker AFB, Okla., and is a native of Chicago. "This has been the most challenging thing I have ever done in my Air Force career and by far the most rewarding, because we are helping build up a new air force from the ground up."
One graduate said that the graduation ceremony was a nice gesture, but his real pride comes from his duty to his country.
"You have to know that when I work I don't expect to be thanked for what I am doing because I feel that it is my duty to serve my country, but it is a nice thing to be thanked and to know that someone appreciates what you are doing," said Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Hassanien, an MSO on the King Air platform.
Meanwhile at Camp Taji, Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq's Air Force Training Team handed over three new buildings May 13 to the Iraqi air force in traditional dedication ceremonies.
Among the new facilities were an avionics testing facility, a communications building and a munitions storage area.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Angel Olivares, CAFTT base support unit director, said the new facilities will greatly enhance the capabilities of the Iraqi air force.
"The projects were designed to provide the Iraqi air force here at Taji with the basic infrastructure to allow it to complete its flying and training missions," Olivares said.
The avionics testing facility is unique because the equipment inside is from Russia and uses more than six different electrical power supply variations. The facility was designed to allow the phase testing of all MI-17 and Huey electronic components.
"There are only two facilities of this type in the world – one in Russia and now one here in Taji, Iraq," said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Bonnie Trajanowski, CAFTT air advisor. "It will give the Iraqi air force the capability to test and make adjustments to all the avionics equipment, to include all the instruments, the auto pilot and radios on the Mi-17."
Trajanowski, a native of New Britain, Conn., who is deployed from Barksdale AFB, La., said the biggest challenge for her team has been receiving all the Russian equipment, translating the operating procedures into English for coalition advisors, then re-translating into Arabic for the Iraqi air force. She said it was a necessary step to ensure the success of the Iraqi aerial mission.
"With the shortage of parts and aircraft, we have to ensure that these helicopters are performing at the optimal level, and with this new facility we can now make sure that happens," she said.
The second facility dedicated to the Iraqis was the communications building, which also is one-of-a-kind for the Iraqi air force.
"It is designed to house all the communication needs for the entire base to include phone, Internet and radio, and will be utilized to service all repairs on those capabilities," said Olivares, who is deployed from NATO headquarters, Belgium, and is a native of El Paso, Texas.
The third facility the Iraqis took over was a new munitions maintenance and storage area, modeled after the munitions storage facilities used by the U.S. Air Force. The maintenance facility consists of three bays designed to conduct maintenance on rockets, chaff and flares and ammunition, and also has office space for the technicians.
"The significance of this munitions area is that we have increased the capabilities of the Iraqi air force by 400 percent," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Otis T. Reed, munitions advisor to the Iraqi air force. "This building will now be used for weapons checkout and munitions inspections as well as munitions building."
(Compiled from Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq news releases).