American Forces Press Service
Sept. 30, 2009 - The Iraqi air force officially began fully independent C-130 air operations yesterday, marking the end of the U.S. C-130 air advisory mission here. A ceremony deactivating the U.S. Air Force's 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and marking assumption of C-130 operations, maintenance and training by the Iraqi air force's Squadron 23 formalized the milestone.
Presiding over the event were U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert C. Kane, commander of the 321st Air Expeditionary Wing and director of the Air Force's Iraq training and advisory mission; Staff Lt. Gen. Anwar Hamad Amen Ahmed, Iraqi air force commander; Brig. Gen. Kareem Ali Abud, commander of the Iraqi air force's New Al-Muthana Air Base; and Col. Christopher Pehrson, commander of the U.S. Air Force's 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group.
"Today, I say we are proud to have had the honor to work with you side by side as brothers, not less," Kareem said. "I have worked with about eight advisors, and we have here more than 60 groups at Al-Mathana, great in all fields: discipline, versatility, specialties and, more than that, humanity.
"We can't forget the support you gave in the training of pilots, craft engineers, logistics, security forces and English classes," he continued. "We respect your sacrifices -- leaving your families behind just to support Iraqi air forces. We are grateful for you and your families. We don't like to say goodbye. See you again with better situations in Iraq."
The deactivation of the U.S. squadron marked another claim to the Iraqi air force's independence.
Squadron 23 is the largest C-130 squadron in the Iraqi air force, and its mission includes delivering troops and cargo, supporting distinguished visitors and flying medical evacuation missions. The squadron began after the United States gave three C-130E aircraft to the Iraqis through the Excess Defense Articles program.
The Iraqi air force C-130 airlift mission was born with the arrival in January 2005 of those same three aircraft at Ali Air Base. This paved the way for the first aircrew members to receive flight training at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. After being assigned to Ali Air Base since 2005, the squadron moved here March 7, 2006.
In his remarks, Kane declared the C-130 flight training effort "mission complete."
"The Iraqi pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters, and maintainers have clearly demonstrated that they are ready to perform their missions and, most importantly, to do it well," he said. "American advisors have also done what we've asked them to do: to stand side by side with their Iraqi partners and provide them the training required to operate the C-130 safely. This is a big deal -- something the people of Iraq, and even the world, will take note of. The Iraqi air force is on its way to independent operations."
In his comments, Pehrson noted the milestone's importance. "Today's ceremony is possible because the United States Air Force and the Iraqi air force were successful in their partnership to develop credible, professional and enduring airlift capability in the Iraqi C-130 fleet," he said. "It's an important step in the realization of a fully independent Iraqi air force that will one day defend and protect the people of Iraq.
"From today forward, Squadron 23 will fly independently over the skies of Iraq without direct support from a U.S. air advisory squadron," he added. "One day soon, other squadrons throughout the Iraqi air force will also operate independent of American advisor support. This change, and the evolution of the air advisory mission, is good because it means that we are moving together beyond foundational training and towards air power capabilities that are credible and enduring."
Air advisory training included a focus on foundational training for pilots, navigators, flight engineers, loadmasters, crew chiefs and maintenance specialists in engines, sheet metal, avionics and hydraulics.
(From a Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq news release.)