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Iraqi, American firefighters team up for joint exercise

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KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq – A dozen Iraqi air force and U.S.-contracted firefighters conducted a joint coordination exercise for a simulated C-130 crash here April 3.

The exercise, led by the U.S. Air Force's base transition team, marked the initial steps in preparing Iraqi partners for increasing responsibilities as U.S. military forces gradually transition out of the country to meet the Dec. 31 bilateral security agreement deadline.

"Our main tactical objective of the exercise was to demonstrate to the Iraqis the ability to provide protection for the fire-rescue crews using two of their fire engines," explained Nicolas Riley, a U.S.-contracted firefighter who participated in the exercise as a command and control observer, and demonstrated the "rain down" technique using their own fire engine. "While there are some points that we need to address after today's exercise, they've come a long way since we first started working with them."

"We learned some important things today," said 2nd Lt. Omar Hushan Hussein, who leads the Iraqi firefighters. "This kind of training will help us work together better as a team [with the U.S. contractors]."

For the past few weeks, Senior Airman Christopher Stevenson, deployed here from Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and other Airmen from Kirkuk's BTT have provided basic firefighter and safety training to two eight-man firefighter teams assigned to Kirkuk's airfield.

"We assisted the IqAF fire department by coordinating meetings and exercises, and helped them get basic tools and equipment, such as fire extinguishers and practice firewood," explained Airman Stevenson, a Franklin, Ind., native and civil engineer by trade. "We've found many challenges, besides just the language barrier. I found it hard to provide proper fire training without being a firefighter myself. However, we helped the best we could and tried to prepare the IqAF for our team's incoming firefighter."

After months of anticipation, the BTT received its newest addition last week, Master Sgt. Sean Beasley, a 15-year veteran Air Force firefighter deployed from the 341st Civil Engineer Squadron at Malmstrom AFB, Mont.

"We've been looking forward to Sgt. Beasley's arrival for a few months now. We know that his expertise in this critical field, with the equipment, vehicles and procedures, will pay huge dividends for the Iraqi firefighters here at Kirkuk," said Capt. Tyson Daw, deputy chief of the BTT deployed from Malmstrom AFB, Mont. "The BTT focuses on establishing foundational capability in many different areas to operate and sustain the base. This is definitely one of the key functions that we're focused on developing."

The day after the exercise, Beasley and Stevenson sat down and drank hot chai with their Iraqi counterparts discussing everything from communication capabilities and infrastructure to upcoming training events.

Beasley, a Green Cove Springs, Fla., native, tells Hussein he will provide instruction on the unit's new fire truck and train his men how to quickly don their protective gear.

"This exercise was a stepping stone toward more complex exercises using live fire in the future," said Beasley. "It's important for the Iraqis to keep building upon what we teach, not only for proficiency, but for safety as well."

The U.S. Air Force currently has six BTTs throughout Iraq preparing the military transition out of the country as U.S. State Department officials replace military forces in key locations. In addition to the Kirkuk BTT, there are teams in Taji, Tikrit, New Al-Muthana, Ali and Balad.

"Essentially, the BTT mission is to help our Iraqi partners establish foundational capability for all mission support activities required to run an airfield -- except for aircraft maintenance and piloting," said Maj. Markus Bahnemann, Kirkuk's BTT chief who is deployed from Peterson AFB, Colo.

Article by Tech. Sgt. Jason Lake, 321st Air Expeditionary Wing