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Communications officer advises, assists Iraqis restore air traffic communications

by Captain Byron Coward
U.S. Air Forces Central COmmand Public Affairs

4/26/2010 - BAGHDAD,Iraq (AFNS) -- The task of assisting the Iraqi civil aviation authority in rebuilding the airspace infrastructure was assigned to the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Air Force.

State Department officials would be responsible for fostering the relationships needed to rebuild the infrastructure while Air Force officials would provide the technical expertise.

The Airspace Planning Office of the Air Component Coordination Element-Iraq was given the responsibility of representing the Air Force in the endeavor. Since 2003, ACCE airspace planners have been working with Iraqi air traffic and communication technicians to rebuild the country's airspace infrastructure.

Capt. Kurando Mensen, a communications officer deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., has been the ACCE's communications planner. During his deployment, he has traveled to as many as nine forward operating bases in Iraq and Kuwait to assess, supervise and sometimes repair the air traffic communications systems; particularly the Very Small Aperture Terminal System.

"I've been to some of these places more than once," Captain Mensen said. "The VSAT system is the current backbone of Iraq's civil aviation's, air traffic control communications infrastructure."

The VSAT system supports a radio communication instrument that allows remote communication and navigation stations across Iraq to exchange and share information. This allows Iraqi air traffic controllers at the Baghdad area control center to monitor and communicate with aircraft flying in the northern and southern Iraq.

Currently, the VSAT's capability allows the Baghdad Area Control Center to communicate with commercial air traffic flying above 24,000 feet.

Captain Mensen's work has involved not only maintaining this capability, but also working to enhance the VSAT's capability to cover airspace from 24,000 feet down to 15,000 feet As U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq, the plan is to further enhance the VSAT's capability to operate at 15,000 feet to the surface.

"Because of Iraq's location, commercial air carriers would save time and slash fuel costs once they are able to use the Iraq airspace on a frequent basis," Captain Mensen said. "But this depends on the safety and reliability of their air traffic communications system."

The VSAT capability was 50 percent operational before Captain Mensen arrived. In his six months of work, Captain Mensen, a native of Makakilo, Hawaii, established or repaired VSAT systems in Kuwait and locations in Iraq including Ar Rutbah, Kirkuk, Mosul, Talil and Balad.

For the first time, in two years, the VSAT system in Iraq was 100 percent capable.

A huge part of his job is to develop relationships with the Iraqi citizens who are employed by the Iraqi civil aviation authority.

"It is this critical part of the job where Captain Mensen truly shines," said Col. Russ Quinn, the ACCE senior airspace planner. "Captain Mensen's professionalism and easy going style have been critical in solidifying our relationship with everyone in the (Iraqi civil aviation authority)."

For the Iraqi civil aviation authority technicians Captain Mensen is not only a communications planner, but also a VSAT trainer. On many occasions, he was able to travel, with the Iraqi civil aviation authority technicians to forward locations to repair or rebuild VSAT terminals.

"The (Iraqi civil aviation authority) technicians are always willing and ready to travel to the various locations as this presents a different challenge than the daily routine in Baghdad," Captain Mensen said.

When Captain Mensen isn't traveling across Iraq to inspect VSAT locations, his time is spent advising and assisting the Iraqi civil aviation authority technicians in designing and maintaining the VSAT infrastructure.

"Whenever I introduce Captain Mensen to newly arrived Airmen, I introduce him as the hardest working captain in the ACCE," Colonel Quinn said. "Watching him, and the great men and women here in Iraq, is truly inspiring. This is an amazing team and I am very proud of each one of them."

There's still a lot of work to be done but the Iraqi civil aviation authority technicians are ready for the challenge, Captain Mensen said. With a solid infrastructure in place, the country will benefit from a safer and more rewarding airspace.

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