(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

BAGHDAD (Army News Service, July 20, 2010) -- U.S. Army aviators flew with aviators from the Iraqi Army July 19 for a training mission in the Baghdad area intended to strengthen relations between their units and train the Iraqi aviators on VIP transportation.

This is one of many aviation missions conducted with the Iraqi Army this year as they take a more active role in the war's aviation operations. The U.S. aviators belong to the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, an all-in-one aviation unit that deployed this March from Fort Riley, Kan. The battalion is also involved in training Iraqi air traffic controllers, with whom they share Camp Taji's air traffic control tower.

On this mission, the U.S. aviators flew a UH-60L Black Hawk while the Iraqi aviators flew a UH-1 Huey. The Iraqi Army, which recently took control of their military's rotary-wing assets from the Iraqi Air Force, uses the Huey primarily as a scout and reconnaissance aircraft. This mission, however, showed the Iraqis how to use the aircraft to transport VIP's around the battlefield.

Company A from the 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, is responsible for the transportation of commanders, dignitaries and other VIPs around Baghdad. Over the course of the war, units like this have been busy keeping personnel off Iraq's roadside-bomb-infested highways. But with fewer Black Hawks flying in Iraq, the need for Iraqi aviation to pitch in is increasing.

"One thing I've seen change since the war started is the Iraqi's participation in everything," said Chief Warrant Officer Christian Frobenius, one of the Black Hawk pilots. "They want to do this, and we're here to facilitate that."

In addition to flying the mission, the U.S. aviators included their Iraqi partners in the planning and coordination phases of their mission. They spent two weeks preparing for the flight, to explain its purpose and other considerations, said Frobenius.

Frobenius, who is serving his third tour in Iraq, said he thinks the war is ready to end. He also said increased Iraqi participation in the war is an indicator of success. Frobenius has flown around 200 missions in Iraq, but this is his first mission with the Iraqi Army.

"It feels great and it's an important step for them to take," Frobenius said.

It's not the only step, however, and Frobenius' unit will continue to train with their aviation counterparts over the length of their deployment. The battalion belongs to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, which is scheduled to be the Army's last active-duty aviation unit supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

When Operation New Dawn begins this September, the brigade will become the Army's sole aviation unit in Iraq. With just under 4,000 troops and several hundred aircraft, the brigade will be tasked with putting some of the final touches on the training of Iraqi aviators.

(Spc. Roland Hale is a journalist for the 1st Infantry Division Combat Aviation Brigade)