CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers from the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, alongside Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Red Falcon, completed a joint-aerial response force exercise (ARFEX) with their Iraqi Security Force counterparts at Camp Taji Military Complex, Iraq, August 13, 2017.
The ARFEX built upon previous engagements and increases the interoperability between US and Iraqi forces during Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
"This is a big step beyond any previous US Army aviation partnership with Iraqi army aviators in the last four years," said Capt. Logan Reed, the 29th CAB's partnership officer.
The exercise began when a US HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter from the 2-149th General Support Aviation Battalion, Task Force Rough Riders, was forced to land due to simulated maintenance issues and required both US Army Paratroopers and the ISF to establish a security perimeter around the downed helicopter.
The ground element supplemented aerial security coverage, which was provided by AH-64E Apache "Guardian" helicopters from the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi army aviation helicopters including Mi-17 Hips.
"Getting out and working battle drills with our partners for 20 minutes is worth 100 meetings," said 1st Lt. Max Wiese, a platoon leader from Company C, 1-325 AIR, 2nd BCT, 82nd Abn., Div.
Close coordination was vital due to the amount of moving pieces, including US and Iraqi helicopters inserting and extracting ground forces.
"Communication was key," said Reed. "Both US and Iraqi air and ground teams hit their rehearsed hard times and executed the training safely."
The operation itself was the culmination of over three months of planning between 29th CAB Soldiers in Task Force Rough Riders and their Iraqi counterparts.
Planning for this mission involved of multiple meetings and information exchanges, aircraft loading and unloading drills, communications exercises, coordination briefings and rehearsals of concept, said Maj. Craig Neeley, 2-149 GSAB operations officer.
This event will establish a strong foundation of cooperation between US forces and their Iraqi partners in the fight against ISIS.
"We believe both countries' desire to work more closely together on both training opportunities and supporting the war fight as single, unified force," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Long, 2-149 GSAB commander.
Although the mission was a success, the best moments often occurred during the planning phases in which 29th CAB Soldiers had an opportunity to build relationships with their Iraqi counterparts.
"The GSAB did a phenomenal job building relationships with the Iraqi army aviation and ISF leadership team," said Reed. "From participating in weekly planning sessions that alternated between US and Iraqi conference rooms, to sharing meals together, the GSAB immersed themselves in Iraqi culture and quickly earned the trust needed to successfully execute joint training together."
This training opportunity also allowed for US Soldiers and the ISF to share knowledge that will translate to future success on the battlefield.
"We have developed friendships through shared experience, and have found the Iraqis to be personable, hospitable, capable and eager to support the mission," said Neeley. "I have enjoyed it very much and believe that this partnership may be among the most important accomplishments of Task Force Rough Riders' deployment."
Moving forward, the partnership between Iraqi Security Forces and their counterparts in the 29th CAB is expected to grow.
"Our goal is to leverage these aerial response force training opportunities to complete joint air assaults and other complex operations in support of ongoing Iraqi army operations and develop mutual solutions to the challenges of range and refueling capabilities in Iraq," said Neeley.
The 29th CAB, an Army National Guard brigade, provides regional partnership training, aviation assets, offensive strike capability, operational and logistical support to Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield.