Saturday, September 1, 2007

Iraqi Air Force conducts first mission without U.S. help

Multi-National Force - Iraq:

CAMP TAJI — The Iraqi Air Force (IAF) recently flew its first mission without the assistance of its American partners.

Iraqi pilots flew a mission to survey and monitor the power lines here during a mission appropriately called “Operation Power Line,” Aug. 25, said Brig. Gen. Sati, commander of the IAF, Taji Wing, who asked to be identified by only his last name.

“We did our duties today for the very first time and it was a 100 percent Iraqi mission,” he said. Sati announced the mission at a partnership event Aug. 25 between the IAF and 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, in which the American and Iraqi service members enjoyed dinner.

The mission came about because insurgents have been causing unrest throughout the country by cutting power lines, thus cutting off electrical power to the Iraqi people, said Washington Court House, Ohio native, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan Bartlett, commander of the 770th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron and the Coalition Air Force Transition Team.

“There’s (a proposed) Iraqi law about people keeping their distance from power lines since there are so many dropped,” said Bartlett.

The IAF is taking action on this problem by surveying for downed lines and also watching for anyone violating the stand-off distance, he said.

“The mission is to go outside and patrol the power lines and to get the word out that the Iraqi Air Force is flying,” said Bartlett.

Sati feels that there are two reasons why the IAF have had this recent success.

“As I informed my close, dear friend (Col. Dan Shanahan, commander of the 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div.), there are two reasons behind that,” said Sati.

“Number one, is because (of) the ability of our Iraqi pilots to understand and digest the information and because of their (aviation background),” the Iraqi general said proudly.

“The second reason is because the continuous day and night help from our American brothers who did everything we asked of them. They didn’t deny us any efforts to accomplish what we wanted,” he said.

Sati described the moment they completed their first Iraqi mission.

“The whole base is very happy today – extremely happy. We feel like a graduate who just graduated and got his diploma,” he said.

The progress is obvious when one looks at the numbers, said Bartlett.

“To put it in context, last year this wing flew a total of 300 hours. Most of those hours were on a couple of these (Bell 206) Jet Rangers,” he said.

“Last month, they flew 200 hours just in the (Bell UH-1H) Huey II alone. So far they’ve got about 700 hours on the aircraft and they’ve only really been flying them since the end of February, first of March,” said Bartlett.

Along with keeping a watchful eye over the power lines, the IAF has also moved Soldiers and dignitaries and visitors across the country.

“They are also moving passengers. They’ve moved about 500 passengers so far this year,” said Bartlett.

Sati and other officers of his command commemorated their victory with their American partners with a static display of their aircraft and then a dinner later that night. The IAF pilots and crewmembers set up three helicopters in a hangar and answered any questions the Americans had about them. U.S. pilots crawled in and out of the IAF helicopters with an Iraqi aviator close by to answer any questions as well as talk about their common bond of flying.

Afterwards, the mix of Iraqi and U.S. aviators went to the U.S. side of the Forward Operating Base and had a time of fellowship while dining and then smoked a few cigars.

(By Spc. Nathan Hoskins 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs)