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Ali Base assumes 'advise and assist' as additional duty

by 1st Lt. Korry Leverett
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

10/20/2009 - ALI BASE, Iraq (AFNS) -- As the responsible drawdown of forces continues in Iraq, Airmen here have embraced the additional role of advising and assisting the local Iraqi army and citizens during the transition.

The 407th Air Expeditionary Group, which operates, maintains and secures the largest airfield in Southern Iraq, is one of several Air Force units that have accepted this task in an effort to better equip and prepare the new government in Iraq.

"This is why we are here," said Colonel Glen A. Apgar, 407th AEG commander. "What we are doing is assisting the Iraqi people stand up as a country ... it's much bigger than only running the airfield."

Though advise and assist is typically an Army mission, Airmen here have made a commitment to link up with their Army counterparts in this effort.

"Airmen have accepted this role because they have the technical skills to do so," Colonel Apgar said. "It's something we have to do."

The decision to take on this function came in part because the 407th AEG assists the Army's 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, also here at Ali Base/Contingency Operating Base Adder, which deployed to Iraq as the first Advise and Assist Brigade.

Airmen are also augmenting local Military Transition Teams and Logistics Military Advisory Teams, helping to establish initial operating capabilities for the Iraqi Army.

"The 407th AEG brings a unique and professional skill set to the fight," said Lt. Col. Steven Ramsay, Tallil LMAT senior advisor. "The Airmen have a willingness to support and a heart to make a difference I haven't seen from others in the area of responsibilty ... the support provided the LMAT has made the difference in our success outside the wire."

Tech. Sgt. Shane Lacaillade, noncommissioned officer in charge of the 407th Expeditionary Medical Squadron, has augmented the local LMAT and other units on several occasions.

"As an advisor to the Iraqi army we are charged with mentoring our medical counterparts so they are able to conduct activities without the aid of outside forces," Sergeant Lacaillade said. "I have seen the strides the Iraqi army has taken at four different locations as an advisor, and I am proud of the work the teams and others have done."

Just recently, Sergeant Lacaillade and an advisory team aided the Iraqi army in a public health and bioenvironmental investigation following a typhoid fever outbreak at an Iraqi army camp. The investigation allowed Iraqi and U.S. forces to resolve how the disease was contracted, learn how to mitigate the threat and immunize 5,000 Iraqi soldiers against it.

The medical team is just one of many that has stepped up to advise and assist the Iraqis. Weapon safety, power production, petroleum, oil and lubricants and communication teams from the 407th AEG all have volunteered their skills to support this effort.

The Iraqi army needs also needs additional materials and equipment to help sustain their efforts through this transition.

"We began to identify excess material that wasn't cost effective to send to other U.S. units at different locations and looked for ways to put it to use," said Lt. Col. Derek Scott, 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron commander. "Because of this we started forging a relationship with the Iraqi Army commanders at Camp Dhi Qar and found that the local Iraqi Army units were in desperate need of supplies and materials. We knew that we would be able to provide them excess supplies, but more importantly, the knowledge to put them to good use."

The involvement should help the Iraqis reach their initial operating capability roughly six months earlier than planned, added Colonel Scott.

However, these efforts aren't just extended to the Iraqi army, but also to the citizens of Iraq.

Firefighters of the 407th ECES conduct training for many fire departments from the city of An Nasiriyah and the local Dhi Qar province. To date, they have provided training to more than 100 Iraqi firefighters.

"This is what it's all about," said Tech Sgt. Zachary Townsend, who recently redeployed from Ali Base. "If we've given them (Iraqi firefighters) just the slightest bit of training that will help make a difference in somebody's life then our job is complete."

Though 'advise and assist' might not be the primary mission for many of the Airmen of the 407th AEG, their work is definitely making a difference.

In a recent visit to Camp Dhi Qar, Colonel Apgar met with Iraqi army Col. Muhammad Abd Al-Muhssan Khalaf Mahd, the 10th Iraqi Army Division commander, and witnessed firsthand the impact Airmen are having.

"Colonel Muhammad is ecstatic," he said. "Because of the Airmen who are willing to share their skills and expertise, they have a more secure perimeter, a modest dining facility, a maintenance shop and beds to sleep in."

The colonel added that this relationship is a win-win for everyone.

"It helps us with our responsible drawdown efforts, while at the same time furthers the cause as to why we, as a nation, are here," he said.

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