4/26/2011 - KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE, Iraq -- As U.S. military forces pack up their things and transition out of Iraq, Airmen from the 321st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron have their hands full.
With less than eight months remaining before the security agreement deadline, the 321st ELRS is working to not only get U.S. military forces and equipment out of the country, but also train their Iraqi counterparts how to perform the same basic functions once they're gone.
"While other units ramp down and get ready to go home, our workload intensifies," explained Major Anthony Edwards, who took command over the unit and more than 50 Airmen April 13. "[Now], more than ever, [our Airmen] need to keep [their] focus - on safety and maintaining on-time missions. If we fall short, it messes up the entire [transition] plan."
The unit's director of operations, Capt. Michael Meno, said balancing the two-sided mission is a delicate process, but with the help of Kirkuk's base transition team, Airmen are making progress training their Iraqi partners in all disciplines of the career field.
"There is a huge amount of accountability, tracking, storage, inventory, distribution and maximum use of resources involved in the logistics process that facilitates the needs of [U.S.] units to meet their mission objectives," said the captain, deployed from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., and Inarajan, Guam, native. "Our personnel demonstrate standards of the job so that our Iraqi counterparts can take what they are learning and apply it to their working environment. We recognize that they, in most cases, have not received the formal training of the career field, so we try to emphasize the process in action."
Airmen working in the unit's aerial port flight support more than 200 missions that load more than 2,500 passengers and 375 tons of cargo as part of its U.S. mission each month. In addition, aerial port operators like Staff Sgt. Joseph Maldonado, Staff Sgt. Dane Childers and Senior Airman Jacob Tate are teaching their Iraqi partners the importance of manifesting passengers on flights and demonstrating how to pack and weigh pallets before they're loaded onto aircraft.
"We've also been showing them the different types of K-loaders we use here to move the cargo out to the aircraft," explained Sergeant Maldonado, a Guardsman deployed from Stewart Air National Guard Base, N.Y. "While palletizing, we've also shown them the different types of chains and devices we use to secure the cargo."
During a recent training session, an Iraqi lieutenant colonel thanked the 321st ELRS Airmen for training his men on aerial port operations. He explained that before Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was a general in a completely different career field, but he took a scarce, lower-ranking position to remain in the emerging Iraqi air force.
After showing the lieutenant colonel and his airmen how to secure baggage and weigh palletized cargo, the group of Airmen set plans for the next training session - how to maintain accountability and safely load and unload passengers and cargo from a C-130.
On the opposite side of the airfield, Airmen from the 321st ELRS fuels management flight are working side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts on a weekly basis. Airmen like Tech. Sgt. Ryan Smith have been teaching Iraqi airmen advanced techniques for checking the quality of jet fuel used for the aircraft on base.
Sergeant Smith and Warrant Officer "Abu Mohammed" test a one-gallon sample of jet fuel from one of the Iraqi air force fuel trucks. The two check the fuel's density, conductivity, contamination and weight to ensure the fuel is within strict quality standards before it is cleared for use inside aircraft and various equipment.
Warrant Officer Mohammed, who joined the Iraqi air force when he was 17, has been a fuels technician for almost 32 years. Despite Abu's vast experience, Sergeant Smith has been able to teach him a few new tricks of the trade using advanced tools.
"We share a lot of the same basic processes, but the American process is a little more in-depth," said Warrant Officer Mohammed. "I've learned how to change filters for JP-8 trucks, how often they need to be changed and the right steps to do it. I've also learned how to measure the amount of fuel in the storage tanks."
Sergeant Smith, who is deployed from Hurlburt Field, Fla., said training airmen like Chief Warrant Officer Mohammed on advanced fuel management techniques is critical as the Iraqi air force builds up its pool of logistics airmen at Kirkuk. In the past two years, the pool has grown from four airmen to 32.
"Without clean fuel, their aircraft here won't fly, so right now we're training them how to test their own samples," said Sergeant Smith, who calls Martinsville, Ind., his hometown. "They're going to need that capability for their own flying squadrons when we leave and they need to be proficient with similar equipment used in their own lab."
At the Iraqi air force's vehicle maintenance shop, Staff Sgt. Jedidiah Brown and Airman 1st Class Josh Guisasola from the 321st ELRS vehicle maintenance flight have been training their Iraqi counterparts on some of the key points to maintaining various vehicles in their inventory.
"After how many kilometers can it go before maintenance?" one Iraqi airman asks about the humvee.
"At approximately 100,000 kilometers," said Sergeant Brown.
Opening up the hood and all the panels on an Iraqi humvee, the two showed more than a dozen Iraqis how to remove a generator and answered questions about preventive maintenance while showing key maintenance areas within the vehicle.
"In my nine years in the Air Force, I've never had a training mission like this before," explained Sergeant Brown, who is deployed from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., and calls Troy, Pa., his hometown. "In the last eight months, our unit trained the Iraqis as they needed it, but now we're teaching them on lift machines, buses and trucks on a weekly basis. We want to show them how to maintain and safely operate the vehicles in their inventory as proficiently as possible."
The ELRS training program is one of several major training projects being coordinated between U.S. Air Force and Army units and the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission - Air's base transition team at Kirkuk. The team is also facilitating training with firefighters, security forces and other key career fields needed to sustain air base operations once American military forces transition out. Five other Air Force BTTs are located throughout the country conducting similar missions.
Photo cutline: Staff Sgt. Dane Childers, left, 321st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, explains to his Iraqi partners the process of palletizing baggage and calculating baggage weight prior to loading it on board an aircraft. Sergeant Childers is a Guardsman deployed from the 166th Airlift Wing in New Castle, Del. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Jason Lake)