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Rakkasans, Iraqi Army Conduct Air Assaults

Jun 17, 2008
BY Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Mills, Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy and Pvt. Christopher McKenna

CAMP STRIKER, Iraq (Army News Service, Jun. 17, 2008) -- A long tradition of air assaults and a fledgling army are coming together in Iraq.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division "Rakkasans" continues to use air assaults to execute their mission in southwest Baghdad Province. At the same time, the Iraqi army draws on the expertise of the Rakkasans during these combined air assaults.

Since arriving in Iraq, the Rakkasans and their Iraqi counterparts have completed 55 air assault missions -- about 63 percent of the total number of air assaults conducted in the Multi-National Division-Center area of operations.

"Basically, it's just a movement of troops to some sort of objective so the ground troops can complete their mission -- whether that be a raid, taking over a piece of land or clearing out an objective," said Capt. Lindsey Melki, 4th Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division battle captain.

Air assaults are used to gain a positional advantage over the enemy using speed, the element of surprise and maneuverability, said Capt. Brian Kain, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. BAE plans officer.

"We want to be able to dictate the time, place and terms of engagement. By the time the enemy hears the roar of the rotor systems, we are already at their doorstep," said Kain. "When an assault force travels to an objective by ground, the elements of speed and surprise may be lost along the way; factors such as terrain and obstacles can drastically hinder speedy movement."

Coalition forces partner with their Iraqi counterparts throughout the country to ensure the Iraqi army can stand without outside support.

The nation's army is honing its skills in the execution of air assaults; they are still in the process of reaching the threshold of autonomous operations. One challenge in reaching that goal is that the army doesn't have its own aviation assets, said Maj. Robert Newell, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. Iraqi Security Forces officer in charge.

"All rotary and fixed-wing aircraft belong to the Iraqi air force," said Newell. "Due to the limited number of aircraft and operational rate of those aircraft, all of the units we partner with use coalition assets to conduct air assaults."

The IAF has aviation assets, but is still honing its planning and execution skills. For now, the IAF doesn't conduct such missions alone.

"The IAF have their own helicopters, they have their own aviation wing," said 1st Lt. Jared Marinos, platoon leader, Company B, 4-3 Avn. Regt., 3rd Inf. Div. "Once they take more control over their country, they'll be able to do their own air assaults as well."

The IA has garnered considerable experience on the maneuvering aspect of air assault operations; their aviation ability remains limited without coalition support.

Greiner said the execution phase is a relatively small part of the entire air-assault process; most of it involves planning.

"We are trained by the U.S. Soldiers for air assaults," said Capt. Amjad Mahmud Hassan, 4th Company, 4th Battalion, 25th Brigade, 6th IA Division commander. "With planning, the U.S. Soldiers give the battalion a task and our colonel comes up with a plan developed specifically for ... the air assault."

Prior to executing the mission, the IP, IA and coalition soldiers go through extensive cold-load training to ensure everyone is aware of what to do when the air assault lands at the objective. Cold-load training is the staging and practicing of the movement prior to occurrence.

"The ISF work more with us and get used to these kinds of operations. It helps them widen their capabilities on the battlefield," said Marinos.

"It's a learning process," said Melki. "A lot of IA soldiers are working from scratch, and lot of the time we have American Soldiers side-by-side with them, training them."

Iraqi army soldiers, assisted by coalition forces, conducted an air assault mission in Yusifiyah June 14.

"With Operation Chelsea Creek, the mission was IA-led with coalition support," said 1st Lt. Joshua Snyder, Co D., 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment platoon leader. "It was also the first time in the Yusifiyah area that the Iraqi army and Iraqi police joined together on an air assault."

Snyder said the overall objective for Operation Chelsea Creek was to disrupt Shia extremist group movement and show cooperation between the IA and IP.

"They worked well together and used information gathered from previous census operations," he said. "If a household had more than the one weapon reported at previous times, it was confiscated."

The reaction of the local citizens spoke for itself when the combined units moved throughout the city.

"When we first arrived, people weren't quite sure on how to perceive us; but as time has progressed and we (coalition) have placed the IA more in front, people have begun to accept our presence more," Snyder said. "Eventually we are looking to have the IA fully leading all missions, with, say, a squad of IA soldiers and maybe three coalition soldiers just for support."

"The people are happy when they see the security forces," Hassan said. "It makes them feel safer, especially knowing we are out there to help them and ensure their safety."

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