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Sunday, December 03, 2006

New Iraqi Air Force returns to sky

Friday, 01 December 2006.
By Tech. Sgt. Gene Lappe
506th Air Expeditionary Group

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE — The new Iraqi Air Force has returned to the sky, performing a variety of missions throughout the country, thanks to training and support from Coalition advisers.

At Kirkuk Regional Air Base, advisers help Iraqi military members of Squadron 3 train for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

"Our mission is to train, advise and assist the Iraqi Air Force unit at Kirkuk in the development and execution of all aspects of air power," said Lt. Col. Greg Zehner, senior advisor for the Coalition Air Force Military Transition Team. "This includes flight operations, aircraft maintenance, base operations support activities and basic levels of professional military education.

"We also work to develop and enhance a professional military ethic for all Iraqi air force personnel, from the youngest enlisted airman to the senior officers," he said.

The mission of Squadron 3, one of six squadrons in the Iraqi Air Force, is to perform ISR of the strategic infrastructure in northern Iraq -- flying over the oil pipelines, electrical power lines and other important facilities to monitor their condition and watch for insurgent activities.

This is accomplished with the SAMA (Zenair) CH-2000 aircraft, a single-engine, two-passenger plane.

The squadron conducts a mix of training and operational missions -- training new members, getting them certified in the aircraft, and performing the reconnaissance mission with those pilots who are fully mission-capable.

The responsibility of training and advising the Iraqi military members falls to a seven-person team.

Their areas of expertise are spread across several specialties including operations, intelligence, maintenance, communications and supply.

"Our first big obstacle was getting the aircraft," said Maj. Jean Havens, director of operations. "Since they have arrived, we are moving forward with getting the Iraqis checked out on the aircraft."

Flight training had been on hold due to the grounding of the CompAir 7SL, the unit's previous aircraft.

Havens, an instructor pilot deployed from Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., is responsible for advising her Iraqi counterparts on all aspects of the flying operations.

She said she was excited about her assignment and the opportunity to be a part of helping the Iraqi air force become a self-sufficient organization.

"The dream of any instructor is to see progress of a student," she said. "Serving as their instructor will probably be the highlight of my career."

Master Sgt. James Redmond, maintenance advisor, has the responsibility of instructing and advising the Iraqi airmen on how to keep their new aircraft flying.

"We show them what has to be done and how to use technical data and proper safety procedures," he said. "Then they develop plans and techniques that will work for them."

He said his mission is to show the Iraqis how to make their air force better and to help them grow from lessons learned in the past.

"The Iraqis are eager to learn, and they take pride in their work," Redmond said. "Once the maintenance is done, they will usually hang around and watch the launch of the aircraft they worked on."

Zehner said the most satisfying part of his mission is two-fold: "Doing our part to help the Iraqis transition to a functioning democratic government at peace within its borders and with its neighbors; and the personal relationships we have gained and expect to further develop in our daily interaction with our Iraqi counterparts."
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