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NEWS | Nov. 12, 2008

Charleston Airmen train Iraqi Air Force maintainers

By Trisha Gallaway 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Charleston Airmen are helping to re-establish the Iraqi Air Force and put them back in the air.

The Iraqi Air Force was once the largest Air Force in the region with more than 1,500 aircraft ranging from fixed wing to rotary and 50,000 people. Today, the Iraqi Air Force has 68 aircraft and 2,000 people spanned across five bases.

Master Sgt. Raymond Hill, Tech. Sgt. Jude Harper and Tech. Sgt. Scott Kapanke with the 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here spent the last year deployed with the Coalition Air Force Transition Team in Southwest Asia training the new Iraqi Air Force.

"I had eight Iraqi electricians in the shop where I was training in aircraft maintenance on a C-130 aircraft," said Sergeant Kapanke.

Sergeant Hill also trained C-130 crew chiefs.

"All [maintainers] were from the previous Iraqi Air Force," said Sergeant Hill. "They had prior aircraft maintenance experience, so we mainly trained on aircraft-specific tasks, following and understanding the maintenance manuals and form documentation."

Sergeant Harper worked with the Iraqi 3rd Squadron.

"I trained eight Iraqi technicians in aircraft electrical and environmental systems and four Iraqi munitions troops on storage, transporting and handling of countermeasure flares," said Sergeant Harper. "I also trained 40 Iraqi maintainers in general aircraft maintenance skills and safety, along with six maintenance officers and chiefs on maintenance management and planning and scheduling."

Lt. Col. Deborah Meserve, aircraft maintenance advisor, Headquarters Iraqi Air Force, Multi-National Security Transition Command, Iraq, says it is very impressive the dedication the advisors have shown to their Iraqi counterparts.

"The Iraqi Air Force has come a long way in the last year and will soon double in size from January 2008 to December 2008," said Colonel Meserve.

Because of the size increase, maintainers will have to learn to balance training the new accessions while also continuing to train the advanced maintenance actions, as well as assisting on aircraft maintenance, she said.

Despite these responsibilities, all three Charleston Airmen said their biggest task was working around the language barrier.

With no official translator assigned to the maintenance section, they depended on a few of the Iraqis who spoke decent English, said Sergeant Harper.

"Most of the Iraqis spoke at least some English, but very few could read and comprehend technical English from the maintenance job guides," said Sergeant Hill.

The Air Force had English language instructors there on hand who held daily language classes for the Iraqis.

"The Iraqis were divided into different groups based on their English proficiency level," said Sergeant Hill.

Despite this roadblock, Sergeants Hill, Harper and Kapanke were still able to accomplish their mission.

"If the Iraqis had maintenance going on, one of us would go out with them to observe and advise as needed, especially on critical tasks," said Sergeant Hill. "If the weather didn't permit flying for the day, they would either work on delayed discrepancies, or we would stay in the classroom and conduct training from the technical manuals."

While year-long deployments are becoming more and more frequent across the Air Force, the Airmen recognize their efforts are appreciated.

"It was a long time to be away from my family," said Sergeant Harper. "But I am proud and happy that I had the chance to be a part of this mission and to help the people of Iraq better their country. I made a lot of friends in our own Air Force with this job, and I also made some good Iraqi friends."