Iraqi Air Force Spreads
By Melissa Koskovich
BAGHDAD, Iraq – A
fully certified aircrew takes flight, and a single air base opens
its gates. These feats represent giant steps toward independence
and national security to Iraqi airmen training side by side here
with U.S. Air Force members.
Iraqi airman (right) and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dominic
Pecoraro, both loadmasters, watch carefully for enemy weapons
fire from the ground below their C-130E Hercules cargo aircraft.
If necessary, they can fire flares away from the aircraft
to distract various weapons. This is one of three cargo aircraft
given to the Iraqi air force by the United States. Pecoraro
is from the 517th Airlift Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base,
Alaska, and a native of Limington, Maine.
by Lance Cheung / DoD Photo
Since November, the
U.S. Air Force has taken on the mission of standing up the Iraqi air
force, enabling Iraqis to gradually
take over operations and
help secure their nation’s future. "In only a few months they have made
significant progress," U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. David W. Eidsaune, Air
Component Coordination Element director, said. "We’re working closely
with them on a plan for their future. We agree on where they’re going and how
to get there."
agree that progress has been made, but know there’s still a
long road to travel. "We are starting over," Iraqi
Air Force Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Kamal Barzanjy said. "America
has given us a lot of help, and we have already accomplished
many things, but we need to keep growing."
an air force is no simple undertaking. Eidsaune noted that
Iraqis will face many challenges along
the way. "One
of the major challenges for them is funding," Eidsaune said. "The
whole country is really stretched right now as far as funding
and commerce, and air forces are not cheap entities. It will
take them time to build up their capabilities."
To assist them, the U.S. has given the Iraq a small fleet of
C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Charles Franks observes and instructs
Iraqi crew chiefs inspecting a propeller on an Iraqi
air force C-130E Hercules cargo aircraft. Franks is part
of the Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq,
Coalition Air Force Transition Team. The Iraqi trainees
are members of the 23rd Squadron, assigned to Al Muthana
Air Base on Baghdad International Airport.
by Lance Cheung / DoD Photo
is not the only obstacle Iraqis will face. Recruiting the next
generation of Iraqi airmen will also
be a challenge. "Right
now, most Iraqi airmen come from the ‘old air force’ – prior
to the 1990s," Eidsaune said. "The Iraqis need to recruit
more airmen and build up their air academy and staff colleges.
There are already initiatives under way to accomplish this, but
it will take time."
growing pains, the Iraqi air force is taking part in some coalition
operations. "The IAF is playing a limited,
but effective role in our operations," Eidsaune said. "Their
current aircraft are kept busy transporting troops, supplies
and distinguished visitors."
the Iraqi air force plays a small role in intelligence, surveillance
and reconnaissance operations. "Iraqi ISR assets
are tasked by the local (Iraqi) army division to scan their local
infrastructure, including pipelines and borders," he said. "These
assets bring back valuable intelligence to ground commanders,
and are definitely making a difference."
first Iraqi air base opening March 7, the air force will begin
to take on ground and airfield operations
as well. "Mastering
these functions is critical for survival as a defense force," Eidsaune
said. "The Iraqis are motivated and eager to learn. They
welcome our help. Our efforts are very much a partnership."
agrees. "We are working together as one team," he
said. "Of course we still need support from our allies,
but we are growing."
about how he sees the Iraqi air force, Eidsaune said, "(The
service) is small, but proud. One day they will be large and
proud, like they once were."