US Air Force,

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq: The first three pilots graduated from Iraq's only fixed-wing flight training school at Kirkuk Regional Air Base Oct. 13.

With cooperation from the Coalition Air Force Training Team and the 52nd Expeditionary Flying Training Squadron at Kirkuk Regional AB, the Iraqi training wing presented the new pilots with their wings.

“All of us are very proud,” said Iraqi air force pilot 2nd Lt. Majid. “We stuck together with the Americans as one team to the end, and now I have my wings.”

This accomplishment is not part of a short process. It begins with four months of language training before prospects are even accepted into officer training school. After six months of officer training at Taji Base, Iraq, just north of Baghdad, student pilots are sent here to spend 12 months flying the Cessna 172S Skyhawk and Cessna 208B Caravan.

Now the trio will go their separate ways to help establish the future of Iraq's air power.

One graduate will stay here and become an instructor pilot. Another will fly a King Air twin-turboprop aircraft on operational missions. The third will travel to the United States to learn to fly the T-6 Texan.

For all the attention and fanfare afforded the pilots during the graduation ceremony, the challenges they have overcome thus far are no more daunting than those to come.


Iraqi air force 2nd Lts. Habeeb, Majid and Hassan salute during the Iraqi national anthem at their graduation ceremony from Iraq's only fixed-wing flight training school Oct. 13 at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq. One graduate plans to become an instructor pilot for the school, and another will fly a King Air twin-turboprop aircraft on operational missions. The third will travel to the United States to learn to fly the T-6 Texan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Randi Flaugh)
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“To be a pilot in Iraq is a huge deal,” said Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Hassan. “There are many challenges, and it's not very safe. You do not say you are a pilot outside the base.”

Hassan's fellow wingman also knows the difficulties.

“Becoming a pilot was a big challenge,” said Iraqi air force 2nd Lt. Habeeb. “I had never been in an airplane before. My family is very proud of me.”

This graduation is the single most significant event so far in the U.S. Air Force's engagement with the Iraqi air force at Kirkuk Regional AB and represents a significant milestone in the rebuilding of the Iraqi air force, said Lt. Col. Nathan Brauner, 52nd EFTS commander.

“These new pilots are the first the Iraqi air force has produced since the fall of Saddam Hussein,” Colonel Brauner said. “They are the new generation of Iraqi pilots – trained to higher standards and to greater qualifications than ever before in Iraq's history. They are the first pilots Iraq has ever produced who are fully qualified as instrument-rated pilots straight out of pilot training.”

As fully qualified and instrument-rated pilots, the Iraqi airmen can now project airpower day or night in support of counter-insurgency operations, Colonel Brauner said. Also with the current demographics of the Iraqi air force, it's likely these three pilots will lead the Iraqi air force in 10 years.

With the future of the Iraqi air force placed squarely in their hands, these pilots have not lost sight of who helped them achieve the first stage of their goals.

“I want to thank everyone and their families who helped me get my wings,” Lieutenant Hassan said. “These instructors left their families to help people they've never seen before. I want to say God bless America.”

(Full names of the Iraqi pilots were not used for security purposes)