NEW AL MUTHANA AIR BASE, Iraq: The first class of Iraqi Air Force Squadron 87 King Air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircrew members completed their yearlong training May 17.
The Iraqi King Air program, headed by Air Force and Navy aircrew instructors, trained four Iraqi pilots, seven co-pilots and five mission sensor operators.
“We are about at the half way point where we can call (the Iraqis) independent and autonomous,” said Col. John Rutkowski, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group commander, when speaking about Iraq’s ISR capabilities. “They have five ISR platforms that (the Iraqis) have already used for pilgrimages, border patrols and to secure the voting stations during the Jan. 31 Iraqi elections.”
Colonel Rutkowski said he expects Squadron 87 to be fully operational in their ISR mission with another year of instruction from their U.S. counterparts.
“Hopefully in about a year they will have 10 crews that can fly ISR missions, which (will) give them the foundation to meet the needs of Iraq,” said the colonel.
One Coalition Air Force Training Team mission sensor operator instructor said the task of teaching the Iraqis this new ISR capability has been a challenge but has also been very gratifying.
“(The Iraqis) came in with great enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn to help defend their country,” said Tech. Sgt. Darnell Gordon, a Coalition Air Force Training Team mission sensor operator instructor. “This has been the most challenging thing I have ever done in my Air Force career and by far the most rewarding because we are helping build up a new air force from the ground up.”
One graduate said that the graduation ceremony was a nice gesture, but his real pride comes from his duty to his country.
“You have to know that when I work, I don’t expect to be thanked for what I am doing because, I feel that it is my duty to serve my country, but it is a nice thing to be thanked and to know that someone appreciates what you are doing,” said Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Hassanien, a mission sensor operator on the King Air platform.