CSAF visits Airmen in Iraq

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kerry Jackson
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz visited Airmen here Nov. 17.

During his trip, he met with Airmen at Sather Air Base and FOB Union III, both in Iraq, as well as with U.S. and Iraqi leaders.

While at Sather AB, the general hosted an all call to discuss current Air Force issues and take questions from the audience. He also highlighted the teamwork exemplified by Airmen during Operation New Dawn.

"Individual excellence will only rarely take you to the championship -- it is the team that wins," said Schwartz.

During his remarks, the general reinforced this concept to teams of Airmen who are only days away from successfully completing their mission as part of Operation New Dawn, as well as to those who have supported the joint mission here for the last eight years.

"You all are obviously proud of who you are, what you do, and where you come from; however, is there anybody here more valued than another?" Schwartz asked the Airmen. "Is any particular job or discipline that you perform more important to the Air Force than another?"

The crowd of Airmen collectively said, "no," and the general agreed.

"The bottom line is, everybody counts. Everybody contributes. You all matter," he said.

The general didn't dismiss the importance of individual excellence and responsibility, both which impact the entire Air Force team.

"We need individual excellence; don't misunderstand me," he said. "With the demands on our Air Force, we all have to be good -- but we will better yet as a team."

It is these teams, working together, that provided the training and advising necessary for the Iraqi air force to rebuild and prepare for its future, Schwartz added.

During Operation New Dawn, the U.S. Air Force helped advance the Iraqi air force through mentorship, training and advising on everything from support functions to operations.

Over the past few years, the Iraqi air force, which celebrated its 80th anniversary this year, has steadily modernized and rebuilt. At the end of 2006, it had 748 Airmen and 28 aircraft. Now, there are more than 6,000 Airmen and 72 aircraft, including the T-6A Texan II and C-130E Hercules.

Also, in September, through the Foreign Military Sales program, the government of Iraq made its first payment for 18 F-16 Fighting Falcons. 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, officials said.

"We have enabled the Iraqis to prepare for their own future," Schwartz said. "We will certainly continue to have a relationship and will continue to work with them.

"The thing that is very important is how professionally you all have run down to the finish line," he said. "We are almost at the goal line. It's really a great compliment to all of you, and your leadership."

Four days prior to visiting Iraq, Schwartz attended the Dubai Air Show, an annual event that fosters interaction with various government and industry officials from around the globe. The Chief of the Iraqi air force, staff Lt. Gen. Anwer Amin, also attended the air show and expressed optimism for the Iraqi air force's future.

Schwartz and Amin met again during Schwartz's visit to Baghdad. The Iraqi general, who recently said his country's decision to buy F-16s will encourage and strengthen the strategic partnership between the U.S. and Iraq, shared his appreciation for the U.S. Airmen who have served in Iraq over the years.

"Thank you for all the outstanding support your Airmen have provided the Iraqi air force," said the Iraqi general. "We really appreciate all that you have done."

Schwartz also visited Airmen at FOB Union III, in Baghdad's International Zone. He discussed current Air Force issues and answered their questions. Among the topics covered were the potential for a smaller Air Force, given the budget challenges the nation faces, and how this might affect Airmen and their families.

The general discussed the Air Force's plans to revise the current deployment system. Under "AEF Next," more Airmen will deploy in unit-sized teams from their home base rather than through individual unit-type codes. In addition to greater teaming, Schwartz explained that this will allow the Air Force to synchronize personnel assignments with the deployment tempo.

During his trip to Iraq, Schwartz also met with Gen. Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Forces-Iraq commanding general, and Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, the director of both the NATO Training Mission-Iraq and Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq. As the U.S. military withdraws its forces to honor the 2008 security agreement, OSC-I will become the core of the enduring military-to-military relationship with Iraq. The OSC-I will also continue to assist the government of Iraq with advising, training, assisting and equipping their security forces.

Schwartz also met with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey during his visit. According to embassy officials, the U.S. remains committed to an enduring partnership with Iraq and the U.S. embassy, located in Baghdad, will continue to strengthen this partnership by maintaining a strong diplomatic presence on the ground in Iraq.

Schwartz concluded his trip with a formal dinner hosted by the Chief of Staff for the Iraqi Joint Headquarters, Gen. Babakir Zibari. During the event, the generals discussed a variety of topics, including Iraq's F-16 and radar system purchases, regional politics, the use of social media in the military and the strong, positive relationship between Iraqi and U.S. Air Forces.