Iraqi airmen, U.S. advisers celebrate bittersweet PME graduation

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jason Lake
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
More than 160 Iraqi airmen graduated from a two-week enlisted professional development course taught by U.S. Air Force advisers here May 28.

The students, who learned skills designed to make them more effective leaders, supervisors and managers, were praised by their American advisers for their achievements in the face of tragic circumstances.

"This graduation is a tremendous milestone for the Iraqi Air Force and it celebrates the partnership between Iraq and the United States," said Brig. Gen. Anthony J. Rock, the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Air director. "It also celebrates the importance of education. We should always aim to learn as much as we possibly can, because education is like a jewel -- it's priceless."

In the last month, more than a dozen ITAM-Air and 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Airmen have worked alongside their Iraqi enlisted counterparts at New Al-Muthana Air Base, Iraq, sharing experiences and practical applications of professional military education.

"We talked to them about leadership and discipline, taking pride in their uniform and the importance of being an ambassador in the community," said Master Sgt. Rickie Frost, a 321st Expeditionary Mission Support Advisory Group logistics adviser.

"We told them as military members we are always held to a higher standard, on- and off-duty," Sergeant Frost said.

The training course suffered a tragic setback during its first week when the base's vice commander, who had pushed for the training and other quality of life improvements for his airmen, was assassinated April 28 in the suburbs of Baghdad.

"General Mohamed was instrumental in helping us set up this course for his enlisted airmen," said Master Sgt. Brian Carter, ITAM-Air's medical adviser at New Al-Muthana Air Base, who also helped set up the course. "He would have wanted us to see the course through to the end. We couldn't let it fail after that terrible day."

After two weeks respite, the course resumed. The American advisers talked to their enlisted partners about the Iraqi air force's core values: learning English, integrity, military discipline and, on a more personal level, loyalty to country.

"We discussed all those things, but the most important thing that we did was learn about each other," Sergeant Carter said. "We, as service members, understand the great risk Iraqis take by serving in their country's military. They take far greater risks coming to work in uniform than we do back home in the United States. Many of these guys have to serve anonymously due to the risks to their life and family. They can't even tell their friends and neighbors what they do."

Looking ahead, ITAM-Air advisers said they are eager to set up another course that focuses more exclusively on English, which is the international aviation language.

"We want (the Iraqis) to take the lead on planning and preparing the next course," Sergeant Carter said. "We'd like to see them take this on as their own."