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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Internal training key to Iraqi air force independence

by Master Sgt. Brian Davidson
447th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

12/2/2008 - NEW AL MUTHANA AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNS)  -- As the Iraqi parliament works out the details of the new status of forces agreement that calls for American forces to withdraw from the country in 2011, Iraqi air force emergency responders from New al Muthana Air Base took the lead for the first time in a mass casualty response exercise Nov. 21 as they learn how to operate independent of their American counterparts.

The exercise was the largest and most difficult to date for the fledgling air force that brought together firefighters, medics, security forces, command and control, emergency management and safety elements for the first time in order to test their response abilities, as well as to develop an independent training and exercise capability. 

"There have been several medical courses arranged and conducted by U.S. advisers," said Capt. Sunny Holden, a 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron medical adviser. "The challenge and purpose of this exercise was to continue developing the Iraqi air forces' ability to plan and to conduct their own training and exercise program."

American emergency responders from the 447th Air Expeditionary Group at Sather Air Base, Iraq, and training personnel from the 321st AEAS worked with Iraqi leaders to teach them how to develop exercise scenarios.

This mass casualty exercise was the first of its size and scope, adding a training element the Iraqis have not experienced thus far -- real people playing the role of the wounded.

"The exercise scenario was to simulate an Iraqi C-130 aircraft that made a rough landing because a cockpit fire had caused an in-flight emergency," said Master Sgt. Jim Brody, the 447th AEG firefighter and NCO in charge of exercise planning. "We had 20 American and Iraqi volunteers who played the passengers on the aircraft with simulated injuries ranging from minor to critical."

Sergeant Brody is a New York Air National Guard firefighter with more than 20 years of airport emergency response experience. For this exercise, he worked closely with Iraqi officers to coordinate the scenario requirements and to help them learn how to plan future exercises.

"In order to make the training as realistic as possible we used moulage, makeup and synthetic body parts to simulate injuries like broken bones, burns and cuts. There were even injuries that simulated spurting blood," Sergeant Brody said. "This added to the stress of the exercise and demonstrated the kinds of injuries emergency responders would encounter in a real-world situation."

When the exercise began, the Iraqi responders took the lead, but it quickly became apparent that they still needed support and guidance, so the 447th AEG firefighters and medical personnel stepped in to lend a hand.

"The overall exercise was a success in that our international relations continue to improve on all levels of command and control," said Master Sgt. Rodney Metler, the 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron Emergency Management Flight exercise evaluation team NCO in charge. "The Iraqi aircrew handled the situation by the book, and the firefighters and medical personnel continue to demonstrate a strong desire to learn."

Iraqi Col. Mohammed, the New al Muthana Air Base deputy commander, praised both the Iraqi and American airmen for the progress they have made in developing the emergency response program, but said that although they have made great strides, they still have a long way to go. 

"This part of the (air force) mission is to save lives, and the exercise helped us see where mistakes are made," Colonel Mohammed said. "Each time we practice, we must not make the same mistakes. We must continue to train more people and we must develop our own training program and staff before we can work on our own."

Col. (Dr.) Paul Young, the Coalition Air Forces Training Team director of Iraqi air force aeromedical services, who was on-hand to evaluate the exercise, agreed that there are still not enough Iraqi medical personnel in the air force to take over the training process. 

"The training is going well, and we are making progress, but it will take time get the needed number of medical personnel in place so they can begin transitioning to independent training operations," Colonel Young said.

While the Iraqi emergency response program has grown into an operational part of the air force, there has still been little progress in Iraqi-led training. 

"The exercise was a success, and it's a small victory for us as advisers to the Iraqis," Captain Holden said. "We continue to encourage independent thinking that will lead to observable action, like clinic staff members developing their own training program. Change is sometimes difficult and takes time, but we are headed in the right direction."

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