BAGHDAD, Iraq --
In a small office space at Al Muthana Air Base, U.S. Air Force 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group air advisors and Iraqi airmen enjoy a small cup of tea together. Iraqi Air Force Col. Yossif Halo, the base air terminal operations center commander, sits with the team and casually highlights the familiarity he has with his American counterparts.
According to Halo, his airmen’s confidence in their proven capabilities has only grown larger as the U.S. Air Force and Iraqi Air Force have begun to work closer together.
“To be honest, all the (U.S.) air advisors, before and now, are super good. They do an excellent job,” said Halo. “Our relationship is going to get stronger with more training and more interaction.”
This past April, the joint training was put to the test when critical Iraqi equipment needed to be shipped back to the U.S. for routine service. The Iraqi aerial port technicians, along with 370th AEAG air advisor observers, who are part of the Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team, loaded three C-130J Super Hercules engines on to a U.S. Air Force aircraft. It was a cooperation that is rarely seen, according to the U.S. air advisors and is a sign of trust between partner nations.
“They drove those loaders as well as any of the U.S. Airmen do, straight up to the plane,” said Capt. M. Luke Piro, a logistics readiness air advisor deployed from the 123rd Air Wing from the Louisville Air National Guard Base, Kentucky. “To see them involved and seeing them caring was a unique experience.”
The C-130 Hercules flying the mission was a Kentucky Air National Guard aircraft, manned with Piro’s home station Airmen.
The pre-existing relationship allowed the aerial porters and aircrew to instantly trust each other, said Piro. This trust quickly carried to the Iraqi airmen, after air advisors updated the aircrew loadmasters of the Iraqi capabilities. They had gained plenty of experience over the past few years before Iraq declared victory over Daesh in December of 2017.
An Iraqi Air Force aerial port technician said that the high tempo during the war with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria had Iraqi airmen working 24 hour days, seven days a week schedules and required them to load large objects and vehicles regularly.
Since ISIS’s fall, the operational pace has slowed, allowing the Iraqis to work more closely with U.S. personnel. Refining their skills and building on the foundation of knowledge the Iraqis already had, the partnership has formed a gratifying relationship between advisors and advisees. The Iraqi airman said that the information they have been able to receive from the U.S. has allowed for greater efficiency and a safer work environment.
“You don’t want to hurt yourself or the aircraft, so they are always teaching us about safety,” the same airman said. “We were having a hard time understanding how to quickly get a vehicle inside of an aircraft but with the air advisors it became super easy for us.”
Piro said that for his guys, who go over to Al Muthana Air Base every day, seeing the fruit of their efforts pay off with the recent mission, was very important and great to watch.
For many Iraqi airmen, the experience of working with U.S. Airmen has allowed them to take their gained knowledge back home to their family and friends.
“I’m from a country city outside of Baghdad, so when I go to visit my family, I’m farming and taking care of my land,” the airman said. “Here (air advisors) are teaching me about the equipment and teaching me about safety. I take all this information back and try to teach my family (to be safe).”
In addition to family, conversations over tea often can be about sports, hobbies or other individual interests in addition to work, Halo explains. He hopes his unit’s close relationship with the U.S. will continue so they can grow their skills and be ready for the future.
“There is no mimicking the U.S. Air Force,” said Halo. “But we are trying, as much as we can, to reach the U.S. Air Force’s standards.”