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Air expeditionary units inactivate after last Airmen leave Iraq

SOUTHEAST ASIA (AFNS) -- Four air expeditionary units that were the air and space components to U.S. Forces-Iraq inactivated during a flag-casing ceremony Dec. 18 here.

The 467th Air Expeditionary Group, 368th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Group, 321st Air Expeditionary Wing and 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq stood down following the conclusion of Operation New Dawn.

"For many of us here today we have spent most of our adult lives engaged in the battle to free first Kuwait and then Iraq," said Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, the U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander, who presided  over the ceremony. "Today is a day full of emotions, a day of reflection, and a day to remember -- it's also a day to remember all those who died in Iraq for our country, for Iraq, for this region . . .  for their brothers and sisters in arms."

The ceremony was held hours after the last U.S. military convoy departed Iraq and crossed into Kuwait, punctuating the end of a nearly nine-year war. It also afforded senior leaders an opportunity to reflect over the many accomplishments and sacrifices of service members.

"Because of you, and those like you, a nation is free, full of people who can go to the polls, elect the leaders of their choosing, without risk of being persecuted or struck down by a brutal regime," said Maj. Gen. Russ Handy, the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Iraq commander. "Through your sacrifices, you have provided immense opportunity (to the Iraqi people) with the potential (for them) to do great things."

During Operation New Dawn, the U.S. Air Force helped advance the Iraqi air force through mentoring, training and advising Iraqi airmen on everything from support functions to operations while they steadily modernized and rebuilt.

At the end of 2006, the Iraqi air force had only 748 airmen and 28 aircraft. Now, the force has more than 6,000 airmen and 72 aircraft in its inventory, including the T-6 and C-130E Hercules.

In September, through the Foreign Military Sales program, the government of Iraq made its first payment for 18 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft. The FMS program is the government-to-government method for selling U.S. defense equipment, services and training.

With this F-16 package, Iraq purchased logistical support as well as pilot and maintenance training. When the aircraft are delivered, sometime in late 2014 or 2015, Iraq will have one of the most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft in the world in its inventory.

"We have enabled the Iraqis to prepare for their own future," Gen. Norman Schwartz, the Air Force Chief of Staff, said during his recent visit to Iraq. "We will certainly continue to have a relationship and will continue to work with them."

Quoting President John F. Kennedy, Handy spoke about the great responsibility those that have supported the Iraq mission have accepted.

"'In the long history of time, only a few generations have been called upon to defend freedom in its hour of maximum danger. We do not shrink from this responsibility, we welcome it -- this is our time -- the baton has been passed to us. The young men and women assembled here, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and civilians represent the great treasure in our nation's arsenal.'"

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