Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Iraqi AF pilots graduate, earn their wings

The newly emerging Iraqi air force proudly celebrated a monumental advancement in military capability when 23 Iraqi air force airmen were presented their pilot's wings during a graduation ceremony here Sept. 27. Eleven Iraqi officers became the first class of student pilots to earn their rotary-aircraft pilot wings and 12 Iraqi airmen earned their fixed-wing pilot wings.

Iraqi army Gen. Babakir Baderkhan Shawkat Zibari, Chief of Staff, Iraqi Joint Forces, and Maj. Gen. Robert C. Kane, Director, Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission - Air Force, presented the new pilots with their wings and spoke to a crowd of more than 300 U.S. and Iraqi servicemembers, Iraqi government officials, civilian contractors and media.

"Today marks a significant milestone in the rebuilding of the Iraqi air force," General Kane said. "The pinning of these young officers' wings could not happen at a more important time in the history of the Iraqi air force and the country of Iraq. These new airmen will arrive at their units at a time of rapid growth as the Iraqi air force increases operations across the country in support of all Iraqi security forces who are taking full responsibility for the protection of the Iraqi people."

Leading up to the graduation, the new rotary wing pilots were trained to fly the Bell 206 and OH-58 AC helicopters. The training included initial flight screenings, primary training consisting of approximately 33 sorties, general and emergency handling of the aircraft, basic and advanced instruments, and tactics. The U.S. Army Security Assistance Training Management Organization and Westar Aerospace and Defense Group provided all the training the students pilots needed to qualify.

"Logistically, this is really something they can sink their teeth into," said Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Alton Campbell, government flight representative, USSATCOM. "The role of the helicopter is very diverse depending on the air frame (the aircrafts mechanical structure), but it gives the Iraqi government and the Iraqi air force short and medium range cargo capability, lift capability and eventually a tactical capability once those air frames are in place and acquired ... The ability to move people and parts, to put it simply, by air is tantamount to them regaining independence."

The chief added that they are the first Iraqi military rotary wing pilots to graduate in 12 to 15 years and the new pilots are excited about their future in the Iraqi air force.Second Lt. Ali Jamal Ali, an Iraqi air force helicopter pilot, said he and his family are very proud and knows that it comes with extra responsibility."I hope they will feel very proud because ... all of the student pilots just want to serve this country, just want to protect them," he said.

Lieutenant Ali spoke passionately about serving his country and hopes to set an example for fellow Iraqis."I hope that because we are so few and we need more pilots, more power for this country to save it and protect it" he added. "I hope that they can learn something from us to come here and serve their country."


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