CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq (Nov. 3, 2009) -- Hawaii-based Soldiers flying UH-60 Black Hawks inserted the last Iraqi commandos onto Hawijia Island to search for weapons caches Oct. 20. This was the beginning of Operation "Hawijia Al-Aqmisat, a joint air assault mission.

More than 59 Iraqi commandos were successfully inserted and ultimately extracted during the eight-hour mission by the pilots and aircrews of Task Force Diamond Head, which consists of 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, and slice elements from units throughout the brigade.

This milestone accomplishment included TF Diamond Head, troops from 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division - Task Force Rangers, and the 48th Iraqi Army Commandos.

According to Maj. Brendan Sullivan, stability transition team officer for 2/16 Inf., out of Fort Riley, Kansas, the operation was an unprecedented one for the 48th IAC.
Historical intelligence indicated that Hawijia Island had long been used as a staging area by al-Qaeda in Iraq for attacks on local villages and security forces, said Maj. Sullivan. The commandos were the main effort because they are best of the best, he added. They receive more infantry and special skills training than other Iraqi Soldiers, but most had never been in a helicopter, let alone participated in an air assault operation," Maj. Sullivan explained.

The 2/16th Inf., TF Rangers, advise and assist the 48th IAC, and MAJ Sullivan acknowledged that the training of this mission was complex because air assault missions were totally new to the commandos. However, he added that the execution was remarkable.

One of the pilots from TF Diamond Head said everyone was aware of the challenges, and extensive training took place prior to any helicopter wheels going up.

"Of the 22 Iraqi commandos who we transported in our helicopter just one had ever been on or in the vicinity of an aircraft," said 2nd Lt. Dan Mackey, platoon leader and pilot of one of the TF Diamond Head aircraft used in the operation. "Several challenges are raised when you're dealing with Soldiers new to aircraft, the principal concern being safety."

To address safety the pilots and air crews of the Blackhawks conducted what is termed "cold-load" training prior to mission execution. During cold-load training, each aircraft is shut down so the crew chiefs can give verbal instructions and a physical demonstration of precisely when, where, and how to enter and exit the aircraft safely. TF Diamond Head Soldiers also used "point and talk" cards, which are cue cards that contain English instructions with pictures translated into Arabic.

"You cannot tolerate communication breakdowns," explained 2nd Lt. Mackey. "We utilized interpreters to overcome the language barrier, and all the Soldiers stayed engaged and followed the instructions and rules flawlessly. During the air assault operation, the Iraqi Army commandos got on and off the aircraft very well, and we returned to base without incident and injuries."

Captain J.D. Knight, platoon leader and pilot for Company A, TF Diamond Head, said the value of these missions can't be overstated. They are learning now what to expect from their own aviation assets. Simultaneously the U.S. Air Force is working with the Iraqi Air Force to get ground integration and air assault training in the Iraqi Air Force curriculum, Capt. Knight said.

Page last updated Tue November 3rd, 2009 at 09:00