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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Iraqi AF flies high with safety course

5-Jun-07
By Marine Sgt. Jess Kent
MNC-I PAO
.

BAGHDAD - The first aviation safety class on Iraqi soil was completed last week at New Al Muthana Air Base in Baghdad. Nine Iraqi Air Force pilots and two American Coalition Air Force Transition Team–Iraq members graduated the five-day course, taught jointly by American and Iraqi instructors.

The basic course focused on teaching Iraqi pilots about accident prevention and investigation, composite risk management and the duties of safety officers.

The pilots were also briefed about helipad and airfield safety surveys, aviation fuel operations and the medical factors a flight crew should consider.

These instructions were in addition to flight school at Camp Taji, for Iraqi Air Force pilots spread across the country in three squadrons.

“The new Iraqi Air Force has just now started getting off the ground and into the air, so Multi-National Corps-Iraq had school-trained aviation safety officers to enhance their accident- prevention program,” said Chief Warrant Officer Gregory Bonneau, aviation safety officer and class instructor, MNC-I. “We’re really giving them the basics because they’ve had no real formal safety management program.”

The basic safety course was the first phase of four. The class instructors will visit bases so each Iraqi pilot can complete a safety assessment during Phase 2. The Iraqi pilots will return to New al Muthana Air Base to discuss common problems and solutions in Phase 3. A ground safety course completes the program.

“The Iraqi Air Force just published its own safety regulation and they’re beginning to build the foundation for their aviation safety program,” Bonneau said. “This was an Iraqi course with some help from us.”

Some of the help includes providing a new attitude toward accident prevention and investigation.

“Their primary issue right now is overcoming a previous culture under Saddam Hussein which punished when you had accidents,” Bonneau said. “After an accident landing a MiG-25, one of the pilots was put on house arrest and unable to speak to anyone for three months. He was released when they found out it was a maintenance problem. We’re developing a new attitude to identify hazards and use risk management.”

The Iraqi pilots are very eager to put what they learned during the course to use, Bonneau said. They already provide C-130 transports, medical evacuations and some intelligence surveillance reconnaissance.

“They are real patriots to their country,” Bonneau said. “To make their Air Force and country better, they put their lives on the line outside the wire every day, and for me that puts into perspective what we do here.”

Iraqi Air Force Maj. Ala’din Mughir is one of those patriots. He said life is much different as a pilot now than it was under Saddam Hussein’s Air Force. Mughir graduated from the Iraqi Air Force College in 1986. After the invasion of Iraq, he stepped down as a pilot. He joined the new Iraqi Air Force in 2004.

“Under Saddam, Iraq was away from the world and the way it changed over the years,” Mughir said. “We were prevented from traveling and using the Internet. We had only the local channels. We did not know what was going on in the world. So before 2003, we did not have a program to concentrate on flight safety.”

Mughir learned a lot of useful information during the class. With the newfound knowledge, he plans to meet with his commander to establish a safety council for his unit. Mughir said the instructors were kind and very helpful, and he is honored to have them in Iraq as friends to the pilots rebuilding the Iraqi Air Force.

“It was our honor to teach them because it is such an important step in their Air Force development,” Bonneau said. “We learned a lot about each other, about our cultures and families, and we are not just going to do a class and leave them; we are going to be there by their side.”

Photo - An Iraqi Air Force flight nurse, tends to wounded Iraqis in a C-130 transport aircraft during a medical evacuation. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Samuel McLarty.

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