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First Iraqi air force instructor pilot begins training students

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TIKRIT, Iraq (AFNS) -- The first Iraqi air force instructor pilot to be certified since American forces ousted Saddam Hussein took a major step forward for the Iraqi air force March 19 here.

Lt. Col. Hussein Hamid, Iraqi air force Squadron 203 commander, flew a training mission with an Iraqi student pilot in a T-6 Texan, further developing the Iraqi air force as a self-sustaining airpower partner.

Colonel Hamid volunteered for the air force in 1980 at the age of 15 and graduated pilot training as a 2nd lieutenant in 1986.

There are currently 18 Iraqi students enrolled in flight training, and Colonel Hamid hopes to produce 30 T-6 instructor pilots. This train-the-trainer goal would mean the Iraqi air force would be able to sustain flight training long after the scheduled U.S. transition out of Iraq in December.

Lt. Col. Charles Stevens', the 52nd Expeditionary Flight Training School commander, mission is to advise and assist in building the Iraqi air force with foundational and enduring capabilities in flying training, while establishing a continuing relationship between the U.S. Air Force and Iraqi air force. He said the way ahead is filled with various challenges -- for both organizations.

"Internally, we face many challenges on how to responsibly withdraw from an active flying and advising mission," Colonel Stevens said. "The biggest issue I see is coordinating the support to sustain this mission for as long as feasible leading up to the transition." He said the main hurdle facing the Iraqi air force is fully-comprehensive support.

"Locally, our biggest hurdle is limited Iraqi air force support capabilities such as fuel, power, sewage (and) water," Colonel Stevens said. "Much progress has been made and much still remains, but 'together we can'."

Colonel Hamid agreed with Colonel Stevens and said another critical factor is aircraft maintenance.

"I think the biggest hurdle we face for the T-6 is getting the necessary support to keep our operation airborne," he said. "Items such as maintenance will be a very critical part of our success."

Still, he said he is optimistic about the future of his aviation students. Although he has many more years of experience than the trainees striving to follow his example to become instructor pilots themselves, Colonel Hamid said with determination, motivation and attention to detail, any one of them is capable of doing great things for the Iraqi air force.

"I think it is important for them to focus on the future of the Iraqi air force. I also urge them to learn from the examples set by the instructors they fly with on a daily basis as they begin to develop their instructional style and techniques," he said.

Article by Tech. Sgt. Randy Redman, 321st Air expeditionary Wing Public Affairs