Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Iraqi Air Force protected voters from above

Written by Senior Airman Mindy Bloem, 506th Air Expeditionary Group
Tuesday, March 09, 2010 11:12

KIRKUK - As Iraqis took to the polls this week to vote for their preferred candidate, another historical event took place in the skies above as the Iraqi Air Force commanded an all-Iraqi intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) mission in support of the elections.

In previous years, the United States has provided security, aerial surveillance and reconnaissance for the elections, but Col. Rodney Liberato, 321st Air Expeditionary Advisory Group/Detachment-3 says this marks a historic event because the Iraqi forces, with all of their assets, provided their own ISR coverage for the Iraqi national elections; something they've been working toward the past four years.

Since Kirkuk's IqAF Squadron-3 was tasked with supporting ISR operations over major Iraqi cities during the elections, its members had to be vigilant in protecting the Iraqi people.

To be able to do their job properly, the squadron used technology to assist them in preventing attacks by terrorists.

The crews consist of a pilot, co-pilot and mission system operator. They have three RC-208 aircraft and three AC-208 aircraft, each equipped with an MX-15 electro-optical infrared camera system.

There are Iraqi operation centers throughout the country with the capability to download full motion videos, captured from the aircraft's camera equipment. It essentially gives the security forces on the ground an eye in the sky, said Liberato.

The effort is also notable because it was not just one unit or team working to complete a mission, but involved Iraqi forces across the country teaming up to provide their people with the necessary protection they needed for a peaceful election.

"It's a great opportunity for them to work with the [Iraqi] Army and Police on their own, which, as the United States begins to withdraw, they will need to do in order to accomplish the mission together," Liberato said. "These surge operations will be a great proof of that concept."

Staff Col. Albayati, IqAF Squadron-3 commander, believes this was an important step toward Iraqi independence.

"The role of the Iraqi Air Force is to provide the Iraqi security ground forces the information needed for them to do their duties better," he said. "This means our planes … overhead the cities, looking for every single movement. Everything we do is to keep our people safe."

U.S. forces have been helping Iraqi forces achieve self-sufficiency since 2005, and for those personally involved in the nation building process, it has been a rewarding experience.

"I've been here seven months, and I know some of the lieutenants in Squadron-3, flying and performing ISR missions on their own who used to be in the pilot training squadron," Liberato said. "It gives you a bit of personal satisfaction to know you had something to do with their pilot skills and getting them where they need to be. And they're ready; they're ready to execute [missions] on their own."

Albayati believes it's time for the Iraqi forces to protect their people.

"I cannot tell you how proud I am of what we are doing in this squadron," he said. "I cannot tell you the limits of my happiness when I saw my guys working this morning with big smiles. They want to do something for their people. I am proud of each of them.

"I hope for peace for these great people of Iraq, and I want them to know that we are Soldiers and our first job is to serve them," he concluded.

PHOTO: Iraqi Air Force Squadron-3 launched all six of its aircraft from Kirkuk Regional Air Base in support of the Iraqi national elections, March 7, 2010. This operation marked the first time the IqAF led an all-Iraqi effort in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights in support of their people. Photo by Staff Sgt. Tabitha Kuykendall, 506th Air Expeditionary Group.

Source: United States Forces-Iraq.

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