First Airlift Squadron Of New Iraqi Government
A pilot, navigator and
enlisted maintainers from Germany's Ramstein Air Force Base were
deployed to Iraq from August through January to train their Iraqi
counterparts to fly and maintain the Iraqi 23rd Squadron’s
three C-130Es at Ali Base, Iraq. The C-130s make up the first Iraqi
airlift squadron under the country's new government.
"This was the world’s toughest training environment," said
Capt. Jeremy Smith, 37th Airlift Squadron navigator. "We were
teaching Iraqis to fly in a hostile environment with a language and
For that matter, the airmen also had to teach the Iraqi flight
crewmembers to fly. They had not flown since the Gulf War in 1991,
Captain Smith said. Despite the challenges, however, the Iraqi
C-130 aircrew members successfully qualified and started flying
missions on their own.
In late August, the 23rd Squadron completed their first mission,
in which they airlifted Iraqi troops into a combat operation
against an insurgency. The Iraqi mission resulted in 341 insurgents
and 22 caches seized, said Capt. Brain Choate, 37th pilot.
Shortly after, the squadron completed their first humanitarian
mission in which they airlifted an Iraqi boy to a hospital so he
could receive open heart surgery, Captain Choate said.
Another benchmark for the squadron was flying the
country’s leaders to the first-ever democratic election and
the creation of the Iraqi constitution. The people of Iraq stood
proudly as they watched an Iraqi C-130 fly overhead, Captain Smith
"This was the most rewarding experience of my entire career. We
made a lot of life-long friends," Captain Choate said.
The captains spent several hundreds of hours with the Iraqis,
building strong relationships with them.
Since the captains were not able to leave the base, the Iraqis
brought their culture to the Airmen.
"They put on dinners for us with traditional dishes and talked
about their families and their lives," Captain Smith said.
Captain Smith said he has a deep respect for the Iraqi aircrew
members and their families who receive death threats on a daily
basis from Iraqi insurgents who do not support their involvement in
the Iraqi Air Force. Aircrew and maintenance members must keep
their names and faces hidden for their own safety, but Captain
Smith said they are very proud of what they are doing.
"My family is very proud of me, but they worry about terrorism,"
said a captain and pilot of Squadron 23. "I am very proud to give a
hand to enable my country and make my country the best in
…the Middle East."
Today, the 23rd
Squadron flies two missions each day which helps out the busy
American C-130 squadrons.
"They fly two-thirds of their squadron every day, which
accomplishes several taskings we used to fill with our
‘hercs,’" Captain Smith said.
Not only has the flying mission been successful, but the Iraqi
maintainers are now able to troubleshoot problems and fix the
aircraft on their own, said Staff Sgt. Christian Homan, 86th
Maintenance Squadron aircraft electrician.
"I was very impressed with how quickly they picked up the skills
they needed to accomplish the mission," Sergeant Homan said. "We
worked very well together."
The road to standing up the 23rd Squadron was a
once-in-a-lifetime experience that the Ramstein Airmen said they
will remember throughout their careers.
Captain Choate said the rewarding experience peeked when he saw
the end result; a group of students were trained to stand up their
own flying squadron in less than a year. He said he could see the
confidence building in the pilots when they passed a check ride and
eventually flew their own mission helping their fellow
"With our help, this country has not only taken their first step
to building a new military under democratic rule, but they have now
successfully defended their nation on multiple occasions," he said.
"This is truly rewarding for us all."
(Aero-News salutes by 1st Lt. Erin Dorrance, 435th Air Base
Wing Public Affairs)