Recruiting, training key to future of Iraqi Air Forceby Tech. Sgt. Kevin Williams
506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
3/31/2007 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNEWS) -- Recruiting new airmen for the Iraqi Air Force presents several challenges. With the constant fear of being targeted by insurgents, those who want to serve fear what might happen to them or their families. However, the Iraqi Air Force is making headway, and Iraqi citizens are stepping up to serve their country.
"Recruiting is in its infancy," said Lt. Col. Daniel Ponce De Leon, the coalition Air Force Transition Team advisor to the director of administration. "We select from three pools of possible candidates -- former IAF members, associates of former IAF members and the general populace, to include other countries in the gulf region."
A missing piece in the IAF is mid-level officers and non-commissioned officers; these officers were never part of the former IAF.
"Like the Army learned (in rebuilding Iraqi Army and police forces), an air force is no good without its mid-level leadership," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Hoog, the CAFTT commander. "We're addressing that by standing up some of the tech training schools this spring."
Bringing in younger pilots and aircraft maintainers is critical for the future of the IAF.
"A lot of pilots are 42 and 43," General Hoog said. "One of the biggest initiatives we have is standing up a flight training center that'll teach the fixed-wing and rotary-wing aviation side of the house. Yet, it's not all about flying. You have to have the people that can maintain and order all the parts."
As challenging as recruiting can be, the IAF is well on its way to becoming a fully-manned air force.
"They have about 1,000 people," Colonel Ponce De Leon said. "They have room for about 3,000 -- we hope to be at that number by 2008."
In Iraq, flying is considered very prestigious, Colonel Ponce De Leon explained. There's a certain status that comes from being a pilot. It is something children aspire to be. If they do not become pilots, they can still be associated with aviation just by wearing the uniform.
As coalition forces training teams are discovering with the Iraqi army, the future of the IAF hinges on its training. New aircraft and a new way of doing things can present challenges for a culture unfamiliar with change.
"The issue isn't that it's more complicated -- it just takes time," General Hoog said. "For example, we're going to start flying some missions over Baghdad using CH 2000s (from Basra and Kirkuk). That should be happening soon to provide surveillance for troops on the ground. That's the Iraqis using the equipment the way it was intended."
Each of the four IAF squadrons started developing at different times and with varied missions and equipment.
"Overall, you have a mosaic of a program that's in different phases depending on when it was initiated as far as the long-term reconstruction of the IAF," General Hoog explained. "They don't have any pilots in training in Iraq right now. We're looking to set up flying training for the fixed and rotary wing (aircraft) in the fall."
General Hoog believes the IAF is moving ahead while jumping into today's fight against insurgents.
"The key for us is we're trying to help them build a force applicable to the counter-insurgency fight, with intelligence, mobility and casualty evacuation capabilities," he said. "We're laying the foundation for the future with professional education, tech training schools, officer training and aviation training. We're building a force that meets the needs of the counter-insurgency fight today while laying the foundation for them to continue throughout the future ... whatever that timeline will be."
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