CAMP TAJI, Iraq – After more than five years training side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts in the skies, U.S. Air Force UH-1 Huey instructor pilots have taken a step back as Iraqi instructor pilots take over responsibility for training their own junior pilots.
Last month, the 721st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron’s two Huey instructor pilots, Lt. Col. Brandon Deacon and Capt. Jun Oh, stepped out of the cockpit for the last time to start ground-level advising their Iraqi partners with Iraqi Army Aviation Command’s 2nd Squadron.
“As of March 25, our Huey advisors are no longer performing in-flight advising or training duties on board Iraqi UH-1HP aircraft,” explained Colonel Deacon, 321st AEAS director of operations, who has flown more than 180 hours instructing Iraqis and redeploys to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., this month after a year in Iraq. “The changing operational and logistical support environment as we approach end-of-mission milestones drove the decision to focus our efforts on deliberately advising the Iraqis toward developing interoperability, reliability and sustainability rather than in-flight training.”
Colonel Deacon, a 15-year veteran Huey pilot from East Derry, N.H., said the new advisory focus was the next logical step in preparing the 2nd Squadron to fly its fleet of 16 Huey helicopters after years of pilot training and tactical flight experience.
In the past 15 months, the U.S. Huey pilots had been focusing their training efforts mostly on night-vision goggle training for their Iraqi co-pilots. Capt. Amanda Somerville, who redeployed home last December after a one-year tour, tallied up nearly 320 combat flight hours in the Huey, while her replacement, Captain Oh, tallied up more than 50 flight hours in three months.
“They have their own instructor corps that can continue training new pilots assigned to the unit,” said Captain Oh, a nine-year veteran Huey pilot deployed from Yokota Air Base, Japan, and Seoul, South Korea, native. “The 2nd Squadron is the oldest and probably the most developed helicopter unit we advise in IqAAC. This can be attributed to the numerous air advisors that have been here before me that put in countless hours of training and advising with their Iraqi counterparts. I look forward to the new challenges that come with the shift in our advising role and focus.”
So now, instead of donning flight gear four or five times a week and taking off on two-hour training missions, Captain Oh will advise the Iraqis at the squadron’s operations building and on the flightline about safety, mission planning and standardization, evaluation and on-the-job training.
“These were things we weren’t able to spend sufficient time on in the past due to the heavy flying schedule,” explained the captain, who will be the airframe’s only dedicated advisor after Colonel Deacon redeploys.
The change to flight training also allows U.S. Huey maintenance advisors to take a step back. Instead of turning wrenches alongside Iraqi maintainers, they will be advising their partners on strategic maintenance objectives.
“I’ve throttled back from the daily flight line maintenance, and now I focus more on big-picture maintenance,” explained Tech. Sgt. Robert North, a 14-year maintainer deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev. “I’m advising them on maintenance management and scheduling more so than in the past several months.”
Sergeant North said the Iraqi maintenance squadron has made some great progress in the way they conduct most of their maintenance.
“They’ve made great improvements in their troubleshooting capabilities,” said Sergeant North, a West Alexander, Va., native. “They continue to build on their own upgrade training program, and in the past few months they’ve upgraded three technicians from five-level journeymen to seven-level craftsmen.”
The 721st AEAS is comprised of more than 30 U.S. Air Force Airmen, Army Soldiers and contractors. In addition to the UH-1 advisory mission, a cadre of a dozen instructor pilots continues to train Mi-171E multi-mission and Bell-407 helicopter pilots for a variety of missions.
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