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Airmen step back as Iraqis take control of mission support

by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
Air Forces Central combat camera team

7/30/2009 - CAMP TAJI, Iraq (AFNS) -- American Airmen don't run dining facilities for the Iraqi military here. They don't pump fuel and they don't make runs to ammunition storage points. At least not any more.

All of these daily tasks that require the utmost attention to detail to supporting mission readiness are handled directly by Iraqi soldiers.

"We're just here to advise them now," said Tech. Sgt. Willie Moorer, who provides "a safety net" for the Iraqi soldiers who run a dining facility that feeds more than 400 troops per meal. "My goal is to work myself out of a job. They understand what they need to do to maintain the dining facilities. They know how to get a refrigerator fixed if it breaks, they know why cleanliness is important and they know about health standards."

Iraqi army Sgt. Major Ahmed Atae is the manager at the dining facility at Camp Taji, a position he's held for a year and a half.

"Our soldiers have a hard job and they need good, healthy food," the sergeant major said. "If they have healthy food, they can do their job. My job is to give them that."

Sergeant Moorer, deployed from the force support squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, said the Iraqis are 95 percent ready to run the operation on their own.

"All they need me for now is to give advice on how to solve an issue they don't know how to solve," Sergeant Moorer said. "But they'll actually go and take care of it."

The same is true for ammunition. Staff Sgt. Eric Richards, deployed from Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, said it's been challenging for him and his Iraqi counterparts to bridge cultural differences. But they see eye to eye when it comes to protecting the munitions.

"It's very important to have skilled specialists to handle the ammunition," said Iraqi army Captain Isam Marai. "We need to prevent accidents. Ammunition is an important part of any army."

The Iraqis have dramatically improved their standards over the last several years. They have better documentation practices and are constantly upgrading them, Sergeant Richards said.

A new facility and modern bookkeeping tools are also on the way for the Iraqi troops who run the fuel depot at Camp Taji.

"They already had a good system for documenting and verifying fuel distribution -- almost as good as our own -- but it's all on slips of paper and in ledgers," said Tech. Sgt. John Dukes, a fuels adviser to the Iraqi army. "They've got computer laptops on the way. They already know how to do a spreadsheet, so they're almost ready to go."

The Iraqi army is also planning to install a new fuel storage area.

"The facility will be more environmentally friendly and will better enable the army to fuel their vehicles," said Sergeant Dukes, who is deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla. "What we're working on now is improving the procedures already in place so it's as seamless a transition as possible when we leave."

Lessons it took much of the Western world to learn over 30 to 40 years about fuel and hazardous material storage the Iraqis have had to learn in four, Sergeant Dukes said.

"My role is just to step back and let them perform their mission on their own," Sergeant Dukes continued. "We're not here to tell them how to do their job. We're just here to offer advice based on the lessons we've learned. But they take a lot of pride in their work and the Iraqis are well on their way to running things on their own."



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