Navigator takes on training challenge

Capt. Jeremy Smith, a C-130 Hercules navigator with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, served a tour with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and trained Iraqi Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. John E. Lasky)

Capt. Jeremy Smith, a C-130 Hercules navigator with the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, served a tour with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and trained Iraqi Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. John E. Lasky)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- A C-130 Hercules navigator said helping train the Airmen of the Iraqi Air Force's first operational transport unit was no easy task.

Capt. Jeremy Smith of the 37th Airlift Squadron here served a tour with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron's advisory committee at Balad Air Base, Iraq, helping train members of the Iraqi Air Force's Squadron 23 (Transport), which stood up Jan. 14, 2005.

His task was to help the Iraqis learn the ins and outs of the heavy air transports at Ali Base, Iraq. The Iraqi unit's home base is now New Al Muthana Air Base at Baghdad International Airport.

The captain said obstacles always make the job interesting, and there are several to overcome when working with the Iraqis. The language barrier and flying-qualification issues are what the Iraqi and American Airmen had to negotiate.

"It's been 15 years since Desert Storm when their air force's infrastructure and planes were destroyed," said the captain, who is from Shelbyville, Ind. "When they did fly, it was Russian-made heavy air transports like the IL-24s and IL-76s."

One hurdle that might have seemed a little lower than it should have been was working with different languages.

"Many (Iraqis) spoke English well. Since it's the official aviation language most of them studied and tested on it for flying purposes," Captain Smith said.

"However they're smart individuals, nearly 100 percent qualified to work on the "Herc" since it was introduced just over a year ago," he said. "Now they're able to start training fellow Iraqi airmen."

The American Airmen did not hold anything back when it came to instructing their students on the C-130's hang-ups and peculiarities.

Now, after almost a year of flying coalition missions, the Iraqi Airmen are getting better at the air mobility job they do. That's where the captain said he feels the satisfaction of completing his job.

"This has been, by far, the best deployment I've been on. The sense of pride that they have when they qualify and do the mission is incredible," Captain Smith said.

The pride he saw in the eyes of the Iraqi Airmen gave the captain a boost, he said.

"I've learned that they're patriots facing the same dangers we face," he said. "But when they go home they're still in a combat zone."