18 February, 2006

On the firing line

We recently had a weapon range exercise. For the American’s it is a chance to practice with our weapons. For the Iraqi’s it is their required qualification course so they can be signed off as safe to carry a weapon.

The course was run by one of our US weapons instructors and his Iraqi protégé. The Iraqi is learning how to run the course. Makes sense so far.

The first group up was the Iraqi officers.

When we run a weapons course it is a very standardized affair with the weapon master being very specific on what is to be done.

He might say something like:

“You will approach the line and prepare to FIRE!”


“You will fire THREE and only THREE rounds upon the order to FIRE!”



It’s very regimented to avoid accidents. Makes sense so far.

The officers went up and followed instructions. The American would make the command and the Iraqi would parrot him in Arabic. It guaranteed that the officers should be able to understand at least one of them. Makes sense so far.

The officers did what they were told and while they weren’t particularly accurate they at least followed instructions.

Then the Iraqi enlisted went to the line. This included the folks who would be detailed to my Iraqi squadron as armorers and gun-smiths. You’d think that it would make sense they would be able to follow instructions. Makes sense so far.

“You will approach the line and prepare to FIRE!”

Bam babam, bam! The fusillade of bullets that tore into the earthen berm down range was quite impressive.


Bam babam, bam! The continuing fusillade of bullets that tore into the earthen berm down range was still quite impressive.


A few rounds went down range but the message was beginning to click with the folks.

The Iraqi weapon master was hiding behind us who were hiding behind the trucks and laughing nervously.

12 February, 2006

Why we won the first Desert Storm

Last night we had a ‘security incident’. Don’t worry, not a big deal. I did however have to tell LtCol S____ the Iraqi squadron commander of the situation. He had just landed and was getting all the post flight details taken care of. He doesn’t speak very much English.

If I had spoken Arabic it would have sounded like this (with translation):

Maj Irwin: “Sir, we have a security incident in progress and I need you to take your crew to your quarters and establish security procedures.”

LtCol S____: “Thank you Major. I will gather my crew up and we will quickly go to our building. Advise of any changes in the situation.”

However, it actually went like this (I am not making this up):

Maj Irwin: “LtCol S____, uh…. Bad guys? Need you to go to your quarters.”

LtCol S____: “Bad guys? BAD GUYS! Go to my BED?! I RUN!!!!”

08 February, 2006

US Air Power defeats Iraq -- with one hand!

I need you to write down Feb 8th as a day of great importance. On this day one man single-handedly defeated an entire air force. Allow me to give some history.

After the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait in 1990 a person named Col John Warden formulated a theory of air attack called “the five rings”. It was a methodology for attacking a nation like Iraq and defeating them through “effects based targeting”. Details aren’t important but a guy named General Horner took the plan and created Desert Storm. (Quick side note: the entire campaign air and land, was actually conceived by a USAF staff not the Army).

In the space of 100 days of air power and 100 hours of land assault Iraq was defeated.

But here is the important part. At the end of hostilities the Iraqi, while combat ineffective, still had useable air assets. For the next thirteen years even though Iraq was boxed in and hounded by US air power they still always had something that could fly. Even after 1998’s Operation Desert Jackal and its derivatives destroyed all attack fighters that remained in Iraq they still had something that could fly.

On Feb 8 while landing at XXX base an Iraqi C-130 being flown by Major Cybirr, USAF, had a fire light in one of the engines. Now we all knew it was a false alarm but still procedure is procedure. After taxing clear I directed the shut down of the aircraft using the Emergency Shutdown Procedure and then egress the aircraft. My Iraqi copilot apparently only heard me say “egress the aircraft” and was gone faster than the first beer I’m going to drink when I get home.

So, I did the procedure while my engineer backed me up (and was none to helpful either since he was coughing from the dust stirred up by the fleeing copilot). Here is the procedure. I can explain it to you when I see you next.


As I pulled the fire handle I noticed it was coming out of its travel much too easily and in a second I realized why. I had pulled the entire assembly from the overhead mount and was proceeding to bring the entire overhead panel down on top of me and the engineer.

At that moment the Emergency Shutdown Procedure was replaced by the Emergency “OH, $ # ! + !!!!” Procedure which involves the engineer and I fending off about fifty pounds of sheet metal, plastic, glass and wires. After extricating ourselves from that mess (both the Iraqi and American loadmasters and American navigator laughing uproariously and not helping) we proceeded to leave the now destroyed aircraft and I began considering which extremity of my faithless Iraqi copilot I was going to beginning cutting off first.

What you, my dear readers, must get from this anecdote is that after I had single-handedly destroyed the plane (literally, just one hand) the Iraqi’s no longer had any flyable aircraft in their air force. Must admit they currently only have three C-130’s anyways but on Feb 8th two of them were unusable and in depot level maintenance and so my actions destroyed their only flying asset. I had destroyed the Iraqi Air Force.

I expect at least the Air Force Cross and a book deal.

In perspective

Brigadier General K____, the Iraqi general in charge of the base we are now at welcomed our team officially this past week. Let me paraphrase something from his speech via interpreter.

“Today, I took four different cabs to get to work. I did this so the evil men would not know where I was going. My wife and children left my house at the same time and took several cabs as well to get to her father’s house for the week I will be gone. It would not be safe for her to stay alone.”

“Most of the men you will work with can not tell their families what they do because they would draw attention to themselves and risk harm to their families.”

“We can not make recall rosters or phone lists because the enemy might find them and kill those or the families of those on such a list.”

“Everyday we have to pray we make it to base alive because of the IED that wait for us.”

“Things are better now then before when Saddam Hussein ruled.”

“I can own a cell phone, I can talk to whom I wish, I can do what I wish and I can leave if I wish.”

“Here is a story from before Saddam was defeated. An Army officer told his wife he had had a dream that Saddam had died and that he became president of Iraq. A silly dream and something you would just laugh at. His wife made the mistake of telling a friend. The next day the officer was seized and executed on his door step. His crime was to have dreamed.”

“I can now dream.”

On a much more serious note:

During his speech one of General K___’s staff officers’ cell phone rang. The officer stood up and went to the back of the room and tried to talk quietly but we could all hear him. Without pausing in his speech the general pointed to one of his body guards packing an AK-47. It wasn’t even a point just a flick of the hand. The guard walked to the back of the room. We couldn’t see what was happening of course but the talking stopped, instantly.

I think we can learn something from General K___.

Things continue here. We are flying less as we get the Iraqi’s to do more and more of the mission. Now we get to teach them the bureaucratic part of being a westernized squadron. I fail to see the value in this and I think somebody made a mistake in sending me since I have a well deserved reputation of saying, “Report? What report?”

06 February, 2006

Words from the Desert

We were visited by the new Iraqi Air Force Chief of Staff. It was the first time ever for me to have been in an open ranks inspection by a foreign officer. The guy walks by us saying thank you in a thick accent. We shake his hand then salute. He was a shorter gentleman. Mirrored sunglasses, obscure but gaudy rank which was supposed to mean something to me, thick mustache. I think if CNN had been there we would have become stock footage for eternity.

His deputy, their equivalent to a three star general was a dead ringer for Saddam Hussein. According to our boss he was one of the doubles that Uncle Saddam used in his public appearances. That was interesting. Though I had to leave everybody who could tried to get a picture with him. I think the chief of staff was a little disappointed that he rated number two for photo ops.