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Face of Defense: Pilot Helps Iraqis Earn Wings

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Nathan Maysonet
47th Flying Training Wing

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, Sept. 11, 2012 – Mounted aboard an armored SUV with a pistol at his side, an 85th Flying Training Squadron pilot based here begins his days in Iraq checking in on classes miles apart, filled with students not unlike those he left in Texas thousands of miles from home.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Iraqi student pilots prepare their T-6 Texan II aircraft for takeoff at the Al Sahra Airfield in Tikrit, Iraq. The T-6 is one of the final planes Iraqi pilots will train on before their flight training is complete. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Lachance is one of a handful of American airmen working to ensure that Iraqi Air force units at Al Sahra Airfield in Tikrit are getting the level of training they need to protect their skies.

"I look at the big picture of the Iraqi training mission from here to see if they are being taught and properly engaged by the American contractors and Iraqi instructor pilots," Lachance said. "I make sure Iraq is getting what it pays for."

The training, which originally was operated by the United States, now is in the hands of contractors and Iraqi airmen. Now, just three U.S. airmen advise the more than 800 civilian contracted instructors and fresh Iraqi airmen. They are tasked with training the growing population of Iraqi students set to become their nation's future maintainers, pilots and air traffic controllers.

"If you were to squish Randolph, Keesler and Laughlin [Air Force bases] together, you'd get a picture of what our base here is like," Lachance said.

Lachance, who has served in Iraq for the last three months, acts as the security assistance lead in Tikrit for the U.S. Embassy Office of Security Cooperation Iraq. He helps to advise Iraqi squadron commanders on the finer points of pilot training.

"We are teaching them to be a lot like Laughlin," Lachance said. "A pilot here or at Laughlin would recognize the training."

Much like Laughlin's specialized undergraduate pilot training, the pilots training in Iraq begin from scratch. They learn the basics of aviation, following a syllabus similar to that used at Laughlin, Lachance said. But there are some differences, he added.

"We in the U.S. Air Force are selected for a specialty and then train to perform that job," he said. "Because the Iraqi air force is so small, they each have to do so much more, and it can be a distraction."

It's not uncommon for Iraqi officers and enlisted service members alike to work all night and show up the next day in class with little sleep, Lachance explained. Other differences can be found in the schedule and in the resources available to the Iraqis for training. Due to limited fuel, only 10 to 15 sorties take place per day, in comparison to the more than 250 flights at Laughlin's airfield, the busiest in the U.S. Air Force.

Additionally, the T-6 Texan II trainer, which is used by both countries as a key part in training, serves different roles to each, Lachance said. At Laughlin and at all U.S. pilot training bases, the T-6 is flown for several months before the student is sent to either the T-38 for fighter training or T-1 for tanker and airlift training. In Iraq, though, the T-6 is used as a replacement for the T-38 portion of training.

Cultural differences also play a part in what Lachance and his co-workers deal with daily. Things in Iraq are slower-paced, he said, with decisions being made after both parties slowly get to know each other.

"We want to get it done now, but they like to move slowly," he said. "Following that pace has led to a good partnership that will give us friends for life."

Regardless of the difficulties, Lachance said, he has high hopes for the future and is thankful for his experiences as an instructor pilot here, which have helped him prepare for his time in Iraq.

"I've seen the best and worst of pilots. Being with first-assignment instructor pilots at Laughlin has helped me, because in Iraq, they are all first-assignment instructor pilots starting something new," he said. "There is no animosity towards us. They want to rebuild as our partner and friend. Things are going well. And although there are bumps in the road, no one is giving up."


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