By Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Carr
Task Force Falcon PAO NCOIC
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GABE, Iraq – In the past, the U.S. military planned and executed air-assault missions for Iraqi forces. Now, Iraqi forces are taking the steps needed to plan and execute their own missions with assistance from U.S. Special Forces and 10th Combat Aviation Brigade crews and aircraft.The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, partnered with U.S. Special Forces on June 1-2 to teach air-assault operations to Iraqi Special Operation Forces."In the past, it was U.S.-led operations with a few Iraqi forces," explained Lt. Col. Lee Shepherd, commander of 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment. "Then it was a 50/50 mix of U.S. and Iraqi forces. Now, it's progressed to Iraqi forces in the lead and us providing some support."Recently, Shepherd and key members of his battalion, along with U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, sat down with an Iraqi Special Operations Force commander in the Diyala Province to explain the first steps of planning an air-assault mission."This was the 'shake hands' portion and to show what capabilities we can provide," Shepherd said. "We briefed them on 'Air Assault 101' – the basics. We said 'this is what you need to have and know in order to be successful in an air-assault.'"Although the briefing was basic, the ISOF commander said he and his Soldiers benefited from the training and expertise of the American Soldiers."They showed us the importance for ground troops to understand the coordination needed with aviation troops," explained Col. Abed Al Meer Kasem Muhammad, Diyala Province Iraqi Special Operations Force commander. "These are the basics, and we learned a lot from the briefing."Muhammad expressed his desire to gain the experience to allow his troops to perform air-assault missions on their own."I'm eager to get my soldiers to start the practical training. The sooner we learn these skills, the sooner we can rid this area of terrorism and the sooner we will have peace," Muhammad said.This isn't the first time Shepherd's battalion has worked with Iraqi forces. The two partnered in the past to perform many missions with the Pathfinder Company, another 10th CAB unit. Shepherd said they have seen an improvement in Iraqi forces' capabilities and the Iraqis are taking the lead in providing security."When we first arrived in country, we worked primarily with the U.S. forces on air-assault missions. Iraqi forces were on the mission but purely in a supporting role," Shepherd explained. "As the months passed, it became more of a partnership on the mission. “Now, each mission is becoming primarily Iraqi forces, with a small contingent of U.S. forces,” he continued. “As we conduct this training now, we are working so that in the coming months, missions can be Iraqi-planned and led with very little, if any, U.S. ground force involvement."As the U.S. military prepares to withdraw and the Iraqi government takes control of securing its own country, Shepherd believes that air assault is a viable tactic that the Iraqi forces can learn and use. He said it is a step in the right direction for Iraqi security."We are helping to build the capacity for an army to lead itself, sustain itself and protect itself," Shepherd explained. "We are training them to rapidly travel across the battle space and strike an insurgent cell or an extremist cell when they do not expect it, where they do not expect it. If we can train the Iraqi forces to do that on their own, they can police their own country, they can protect their own country. The violent extremists cannot hide, because they will be found and they will be defeated."