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New wing, new mission, new opportunities

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Brian Eastman
  • 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron
The 447th Air Expeditionary Group can hang a new shingle for 2011--mentor and advisor. The Group, now assigned to the 321st Air Expeditionary Wing, has taken on an additional mission in recent months, which is in-line with the wing's dual-role.

The Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron has led the way for the group. Defenders have put a firm grip on this new mentorship opportunity, and left their mark in a variety of areas. Naturally, base security was a primary focus.

Master Sgt. Renan Flores designed and implemented a four-day course on basic security tactics and procedures. The course, which has been taught on two separate occasions, has increased the level of Iraqi security, specifically on New Al Muthana Air Base, an Iraqi Air Force hub in Baghdad.

The training had some unintentional, positive consequences for the trainers. The one-on-one interaction helped American Airman break down cultural barriers and misconceptions.

"They were fast learners, and willing to learn," Sergeant Flores said. "It cleared up a lot of misunderstandings. They are Airmen just like us. They want to keep their base secure."

The languages are different... the uniforms are different... but the mission is the same. Security Forces personnel of the young Iraqi Air Force want to be able to mitigate a threat against their resources. That is what air base defense all boils down to. The first step in improving that security posture is to recognize the weaknesses and strengthen them.

"They want to protect their assets and are aware of their shortfalls in security program," Sergeant Flores said. "That's why they wanted our training--to improve their base security. They are security forces, like us, and they face the same challenges as us."

The training had an immediate impact. Once senior members were trained, they immediately trained junior personnel on what they had just learned.

Security training was only the beginning. If their technical training is lacking, the Iraqi Professional Military Education is virtually nonexistent. That is another aspect the Iraqi training and advising mission is trying to improve. Again, Defenders were deeply entrenched in that initiative.

More than 30 members of Sather's security forces traveled weekly to New Al Muthana Air Base to mentor Iraqi Airmen in the profession of arms, and the enlisted culture. Iraqi Airmen welcomed the mentorship of the Americans.

Tech. Sgt. Steve Frietas was immediately impressed with how much the Iraqis wanted to embrace the culture of the profession of arms, and how much it was needed. In a class of more than 30 Iraqi Airmen--or Jundis, which is a generic term for soldier--the class was spent defining leadership. He points out that you are either a worker, or an officer. You give orders or get orders. There is little, if any, distinction within the enlisted ranks.

"There is a definite want--and need--for the enlisted force to have a say," Sergeant Frietas said. "It is clear that they have a vested interest in the new Iraqi Air Force. I was impressed with how well they participated. They had almost as many people there, as we did for our own professional development class."

The Iraqi Airmen all volunteered to take the course. They attended on their own time, after working a full day. That dedication demonstrates the Iraqi's willingness to learn. Frietas sees that as an investment that will pay dividends well into the future.

"That dedication will set them apart, when they do become leaders. They are setting the example already," he said.

Iraqi mentoring doesn't stop when the work day is done, nor does it stop at the military member. Security Forces members have adopted the families of Iraqi military members through Sather's Good Neighbor Program.

This existing program took on new life under the direction of Tech. Sgt. Christine Sheridan. In the four months Sergeant Sheridan was the director, she expanded the size and the scope of the program. She also increased the amount of donations. In fact, she reorganized and expanded the storage space by 25 percent, just to accommodate all the extra outpouring.

When Sergeant Sheridan took over the program, it was a monthly visit to the Iraqi training compound. American military members got to hand out some care bags, and play with the Iraqi kids. Through hard work and dedication to the initiative, Sergeant Sheridan was able to bring Christmas to Iraqi military families, and donated cases of school supplies to a Baghdad elementary school. For months now, she has also donated three boxes of food a week to New Al Muthana Air Base. She also collected feminine hygiene products for the wives of Iraqi servicemen.

"The kids kind of expect toys, when we come, and that's okay, but there is definitely a need for hygiene products--especially the feminine products and basic necessities, like shampoo for women and diapers for kids," said Sergeant Sheridan. "Their culture is different than ours. We would go to Wal-Mart and pick-up what we need. Women don't do that here."

So if women don't go to the store to do their own shopping, how do they feel about having a woman in uniform? Iraqi service members are respectful. There are some female Iraqi service members. It's not as commonplace in Iraq's military, as it is in ours, but it is improving.

"They understand our rank structure," Sergeant Sheridan said. "It's paid-off. They have women in uniform now. It's definitely a step in the right direction."

It is Sergeant Sheridan's second tour in Baghdad. When she found out she was returning, she wanted to make the most of the opportunity. She wanted to make a difference. As much as she gives to the people of Iraq, she admits she gets quite a bit in return.

"I knew I wanted to have involvement directly with the Iraqi people," Sheridan said. "This is interacting culturally. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It makes you feel like you're doing something--like you're making a difference in someone's life," said Sergeant Sheridan.

In all, nearly 75 percent of the Defenders serving between August 2010 and February 2011 have participated in at least one of these programs. Many have participated in more than one. Lt. Col. Christopher Hamilton, 447th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron commander, is extremely proud of the enriching contributions the members of his squadron have made during their tour.

"There are many reasons to be proud of these initiatives, not the least of which is that it was supported entirely by volunteers during their off-duty hours," Colonel Hamilton said. "It was truly amazing to see the mutual respect and admiration evident at these events. The relationship between the United States Air Force and the Iraqi Air Force has solidified through these events. Definitely experiences for the highlight reel."

All in all, the 447th AEG has embraced their added mission set. They have forged a new path in the rich history of the 447th. As mentors and advisors, group members have made a significant impact in improving the professionalism and quality of life for the young and building Iraqi Air Force and their families.

As the Iraqi Air Force grows, these Defenders can take pride in their contribution during its infancy.

Indeed, the 447th AEG has a new shingle hanging on the headquarters building. It reads,"mentor and advisor." Although that shingle is new, defenders have ensured it doesn't look a touch out of place.