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Air traffic controllers prepare to pass torch to Iraqis

by Senior Airman Chuck Broadway

9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force/Air Component Coordination Element- Iraq Public Affairs

9/23/2011 - ALI BASE, Iraq -- As Operation New Dawn continues to progress, air traffic controllers here are working side-by-side with civilian controllers and Iraqi airmen to transition the airspace back to Iraqi officials.

Senior Airman Matt Morrow, a 407th Air Expeditionary Group air traffic controller, helps with the transition every day by helping train Iraqi air traffic controllers from the top floor of Ali Base's control tower.

"Every little bit of knowledge we give to the Iraqis is a step in the right direction," Morrow said. "They've progressed quite a bit and are starting to do the job (on their own) now."

Like any Iraqi-American partnership, communication can be a challenge. The challenge is increased by with the addition of multi-million dollar planes being flown by pilots whose safety is reliant on air traffic controllers.

"The Iraqi pilots don't know a lot of English," Morrow said. "So when we communicate with them, they listen for certain key words to know when they are supposed to take off and land."

Tech. Sgt. Bryce Hamilton, the 407th AEG air traffic control watch supervisor, said the challenge of working with Iraqis has been an interesting and a rewarding experience.

"They have made leaps and bounds in a short amount of time," Hamilton said. "This is a unique opportunity to hand off the baton to the Iraqis."

While the U.S. Air Force controllers work alongside the Iraqis and provide assistance when needed, several civilian contractors are responsible for formally training the Iraqi air traffic controllers.

A former Airman herself, Crystal Partida has been training Iraqi air traffic controllers for five months and has successfully certified four Iraqi controllers.

"It's great seeing somebody gain knowledge and become fully certified," she said. "There's a lot of repetition, but the Iraqis want to learn and it really means a lot to them to become certified controllers."

Hamilton said when Operation New Dawn comes to an end it will be extra special for him when the aircraft takes off.

"When the last plane leaves Ali (AB) with U.S. troops on it, it will be the Iraqis we worked with leading them out," Hamilton said. "Knowing you were a part of (the mission) is very rewarding."

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