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Iraqis controlling air traffic alongside U.S. counterparts

Jan 26, 2010

By Sgt. Alun Thomas

CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Jan. 26, 2010) -- As aircraft pour in and out of the Taji flight line, a flurry of Iraqi and American accents can be heard directing the flow of traffic over the airwaves.

Since November, the Iraqi Air Force has maintained a presence alongside 1st Air Cavalry Brigade in the air traffic control tower here, ensuring a safe passage of flight for their aircraft.

Participating in air traffic control operations is considered another step forward for the Iraqi Air Force as they prepare to take over operations from the U.S. Army, and it's something the Iraqis are excelling at, said Spc. Dennis Dickerson, an air traffic controller in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division - Center.

"It's been good working with the Iraqis in the tower; they understand everything that's going on up here," Dickerson said. "You can see they're getting better each time they're in here."

Dickerson said he has been working alongside the Iraqis for two months and the knowledge they have displayed is nearing that of their American counterparts.

"A few of their controllers have progressed to the local control position which shows they've learned well," he said. "The only problem is the language barrier which can sometimes be difficult when we communicate together."

This barrier usually presents itself during radio communications, he said.

"One of the problems we have is the Iraqis (radio calls) coming in broken and it's hard to understand what their pilots are saying -- but it's usually worked out with the Iraqis up here," Dickerson said.

The Iraqis show a good regard for safety and discipline in their performance and are easy to work with, Dickerson added.

"They're very friendly; some are quieter than others, but they're always respectful towards everyone," he said.

Working with 1st ACB in the tower is 2nd Lt. Taha Khaleel, an air traffic controller with the Iraqi Air Force, who said the experience is helping him improve his skills for the future.

"We've been assisting in the tower for many hours now and I'm becoming better and better," Khaleel said. "I've learned how to work and assist with the flights and how to coordinate them."

Khaleel said his responsibilities in the tower include receiving calls from incoming pilots and determining the order of flights both leaving and returning.

"I have to get the helicopters from point one to point two and coordinate them all," he said.

In the two months Khaleel said he has been working in the tower, his abilities directing traffic have increased considerably.

"I feel I'm doing a lot better because of everything I've been taught ... they (the 1st ACB) have given me good training," he continued. "With more hours and days here, I will be even better."

As Khaleel adapts to his daily duties in the tower, 2nd Lt. Mushtaq Tariq, an air traffic controller trainee is still in the early stages of training, but said he hopes to take a position in the tower soon.

"I'm still in the training phase studying basic aviation, but I've been in the tower observing to get more experience," Tariq said. "I want to work in the tower myself and serve my country."

Tariq said he is learning about air traffic reports and how to properly sequence flights and hopes to be efficient in all facets of air traffic control before he enters the tower.

"I know about the characteristics of all our aircraft and everything on the airfield," Tariq said. "I think in six months I'll be in the tower."

Gaining insights from the experience of the 1st ACB controllers has been an invaluable resource, Tariq said.

"It's been very helpful for me to assist the controllers ... the first time I went into the tower I insisted on helping to learn more," he said. "They are all my friends up there."

(Sgt. Alun Thomas writes for 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div., USD-C)

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