Skip to comments.12 Airmen live among thousands of Iraqi Soldiers
Posted on 06/16/2008 4:57:06 PM PDT by SandRat
6/16/2008 - BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- Twelve Airmen working together for the past nine months at the remote Iraqi Military Training Base of Kirkush, located in the Diyala Province just over 10 miles from the Iranian border, are hoping to work themselves out of a job.
As the only Americans living among thousands of Iraqi Soldiers and trainees, their objective has been to work with the leadership at the base to improve operational and logistical processes.
"We're here to train and advise the Iraqi Army. Our goal is to put ourselves out of a job," said Master Sgt. Carl Kendall, the 732nd Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Det. 1 Logistics Military Advisory Team superintendent.
So far, the Airmen, who are filling 'in lieu of' taskings for the U.S. Army in positions traditionally filled by Soldiers, are on their way to unemployment.
Over the past three-quarters of a year, the Airmen, who come from a variety of military career fields, have offered advice on everything from the best ways of protecting the base from threats, to keeping food preparation and distribution processes sanitary.
They've also provided guidance regarding electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning improvements as well as maintaining inventoried, well-stocked supply warehouses, said Sergeant Kendall, who is deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
One area where the Airmen have focused their advising efforts lately is in regard to emergency response procedures.
When two suicide bombers attacked a wedding party in a Balad Ruz marketplace May 1, relatives and neighbors desperate to get immediate medical attention for the severely wounded brought 31 of the 65 victims to the small clinic at Kirkush.
Tech. Sgt. Shane Lacaillade, the 732nd ELRS Det. 1 emergency management adviser, received an urgent call from the clinic to assist. Sergeant Lacaillade took over the command and control of the clinic and triaged all of the injured.
"Within five minutes, we went from six to 15 patients. After five more minutes we went from 15 to 21," he said, describing the fast and furious treatment efforts that took place in the tiny clinic. "We had no notice."
"For 20 minutes it was me and two Iraqi doctors," said the sergeant, whose homestation job is as an independent duty medical technician at the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center at Fort Dix, N.J.
Yet, despite being greatly outnumbered by the patients, the doctors and Sergeant Lacaillade were able to save the lives of 25 of the 31 patients who came to their clinic, including the lives of two toddlers -- without having pediatric medical equipment available.
"We are just a clinic. We tried to do our best to stabilize the (patients) and get them to hospitals," (via medical evacuation helicopters) said 1st Lt. (Dr.) Duraid Flyh Hassan, the Kirkush Clinic chief. "There were a lot of urgent cases."
Following the mass casualty event, the Det. 1 Airmen worked with the Iraqis at Kirkush to improve emergency response measures, to include establishing a notification system of medical arrivals at the base's entry point.
"We tested it. The gate is now to call the clinic, which gives us four minutes to prepare. We've also pre-staged some medical supplies and established patient drop-off points," Sergeant Lacaillade said.
Dr. Duraid said a second clinic, scheduled to open in the upcoming months, is in the works at Kirkush. The medical personnel at the secondary clinic will focus on providing emergency care and surgeries to the critically wounded.
"Without the help of the coalition there is no meaning to our world," Dr. Duraid said. "The adviser is always giving us help when we receive emergency cases. They help us if we need surgical assistance. They are helping us to know what to do when we say, OK, there are no coalition forces, what are we going to do now?"
Whether they're offering advice on medical responses or convoy operations, the Airmen understand that being successful in their duties at Kirkush directly impacts the Iraqi military's development as a self-sustaining force.
"It's quite the challenging mission," said Lt. Col. Stephen Ray, the 732nd ELRS Det. 1 Logistics Military Advisory Team senior adviser. "We're so used to 'doing' that it's a struggle not to jump in and show the Iraqis the 'best' way of doing things -- in short, to do the job for them. As advisers, we guide them in finding the best way for them to do their mission. It's not always the way we'd do it, but it's a way they understand and it works for them. Plus, they then own the process.
"It takes a lot of patience from the team and an inquisitive eye to understand what they're doing and why -- and frankly, we've been amazed at their ingenuity," the colonel said.
Assisting the Iraqi Soldiers in establishing and improving base operations is not always an easy task and cultural and language barriers sometimes get in the way, Sergeant Kendall said.
All of the Airmen have completed 60 hours of Arabic training to learn some of the language basics of their counterparts, but communicating clearly can still be an obstacle.
For example, when Colonel Ray said what he thought was, "See you tomorrow," to the Iraqi Soldiers in Arabic, he was actually saying, "See you sheephead." After getting puzzled looks for months, the Iraqi commanding general told him of his error; the two still laugh about it, Colonel Ray said.
The Americans and Iraqis spend a lot of time getting to know each other personally by eating together and participating in recreational activities.
"We've come together as a team," Sergeant Lacaillade said of both his U.S. and Iraqi peers.
With three months left of their deployment, however, the Airmen look forward to the future -- not only for their return to their homes and families, but also for their Iraqi brothers in arms.
"Out here we're on our own. It does make you miss home, but we're helping to move the Iraqis toward a better Army," said Colonel Ray, who is deployed from Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. "That's why we're here."
My parents did similar work through a “counter-parting” program as part of MACV in Viet Nam. They were very invested in the success of that country and I can tell you that the only time in my live that I saw my Father even tear up was when we abandoned those people that trusted us.
These guys are heroes. Thanks for defending your freedoms so we can sleep at night.
What a great story. How many people in their lifetimes will have the opportunity to make such a profound and lasting difference as these men are? Very nice work guys.