Iraqi airmen demonstrate operational capabilities in Hellfire exercise

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike Edwards
  • 321st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Thalatha, ithnane, wahed -- the final countdown begins in Arabic.

A group of nearly 40 Iraqi and U.S. airmen gathered around one of several monitors in the Iraqi Air Operations Center, the flickering lights from the control panels reflected on their faces. The silence was broken only by the crackling of a controller's radio. There were literally several hundreds of years of experience standing, watching and waiting for the final moment.

Fractions of a second passed in what seemed to be hours.

Suddenly, the silence was broken, as a voice on the radio announced the report of a single Hellfire missile finding its way to a target in a remote desert region of Iraq -- Bull's eye.

While the smoke began billowing out of the center of the target vehicle, the room erupted into a cacophony of cheers, high fives and hugs, after the voice on the radio confirmed a perfect air strike.

This was the first time in many years that the Iraqi air force ran a live-fire missile training exercise, from start to finish, all on its own; and the second time it has fired a precision-guided Hellfire missile from an Iraqi air force AC-208 Cessna Caravan.

However, getting to this point took a lot of work both for the members of the Iraqi air force and the air advisers who work side-by-side them on a daily basis.

One air adviser in particular, Maj. Devin Traynor, recounts how the months and years of hard work put in by the air advisers assigned to the Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission - Air Force have finally paid off with the culmination of the Hellfire missile exercise Nov. 8.

"This was probably one of the proudest moments of my career," Major Traynor said. "There are so many components to making a mission such as this a success. We have been working with our Iraqi partners on the various pieces that make up such a complex mission. To see all of our collective efforts finally pay off in the culmination of this exercise really validates everything we are doing here."

The pieces in such a mission include: find, fix, track, target, engage and assess.

"Think of it this way," he said. "First we have to find our target. Then we fix the location and continue tracking it. Next we target and then engage the adversary. Finally, we make an assessment on whether or not we achieved the results we wanted. Each of these elements of this type of mission must be done perfectly and coordinated perfectly for the mission to succeed. The air advisers have played a crucial role in developing these capabilities within the Iraqi air force."

For the Iraqi air force to have these capabilities is critical to the long-term stability in the country, Major Traynor said.

Being able to identify and eliminate terrorist and insurgent threats adds to the safety and security for the people of Iraq, he added.

Currently, there are more than 250 U.S. Airmen serving as air advisers to their Iraqi counterparts. They play a crucial role in everything from fuels to transportation to maintenance, as well as flying aircraft. Almost everything that it would take to run an effective air force has an air adviser assigned to that mission.

"The successful live fire mission highlighted two things," said Lt. Col. Adrian Schuettke, the 521st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron commander. "First, it showcased the admirable amount of concentration and discipline the Iraqi air force crews have placed on improving their kinetic attack capability. Second, it reflected the absolutely astounding level of dedication of our past and present American air advisers, deployed far from home, to support and assist our Iraqi counterparts."

Despite the challenges of being deployed away from home for a year, the air advisers maintain a positive attitude knowing that what they are doing on a daily basis is making history and helping to foster long-term relationships between our air forces, Major Traynor said.

"The future of Iraq looks bright," he said. "Seeing the success of a mission like this is what makes it all worth it. Everyone's family is making a huge sacrifice by having their loved ones being here. Being able to make a positive impact not only for those in the Iraqi air force, but also for the Iraqi people is really a wonderful experience. It's a good feeling to know that we are making lasting friendships and partnerships with the people here. I look forward to the day when our kids and grandkids can come to this country to see all the progress that has been made. We can look into their eyes and tell them we were a part of making this all happen."