A group of U.S. airmen assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation – Iraq help to preserve progress made in the country after almost a decade of war.
The mission of OSC-I, in coordination with USCENTCOM and U.S. Mission-Iraq, is to conduct security cooperation activities to build partner capacity in support of developing a strategic partnership with a stable self-reliant and regionally-integrated Iraq.
The OSC-I is a true joint endeavor, commanded by Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen and his deputy, Navy Rear Adm. Edward Winters. Within OSC-I, Air Force Brig. Gen. Jay Silveria serves as the Director of Security Assistance.
The deputy director of security assistance is Air Force Col. Mark Foringer, deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He described the mission as similar to other security cooperation offices at other embassies.
“Security cooperation offices are pretty much standard operations in any kind of embassy; we have them all around the world. We are one of the largest here, because of the non-permissive environment and the transition of our mission from combat operations under U.S. Forces – Iraq to traditional diplomatic activities under the embassy,” Foringer said. “We provide advice to our military counterparts, help them work foreign military sales cases and look for opportunities for their military to train with us regionally or back in the states.”
The main mission of OSC-I is to build partnership capacity with the government and military of Iraq.
“The idea is, 10 to 20 years from now, we will have personal relationships with key leaders, they will be operating equipment that is compatible with ours, and when we need to build a coalition, Iraq will be available to partner with us,” Foringer continued.
Under the security assistance umbrella are service-specific teams of advisors and FMS case workers dedicated to eight Iraqi military organizations: Army, Army Aviation, Navy, Air Force, Logistics, Air Defense and Professional Military Education.
Leading the Air Force team is Air Force Col. Mike Duffy, deployed from Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C. His 21-Airman team works from a variety of locations with members of the Iraqi Air Force and Air Defense.
“We’re here, so that the sacrifices and shed blood over the last 10 years, was not done in vain,” Duffy said. “We’re now helping them build their Air Force and Air Defense, and in doing that, Iraq will achieve air sovereignty and we will create a lasting partnership.”
Although U.S. contractors now conduct the training in Iraq, Air Force advisors play a critical role in the planning and set up of training facilities and acquisition of aircraft and training aids. Airmen also advise senior leadership at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi Air Force, and Air Defense commands on anything from runways and aircraft control towers to personnel issues and logistics.
Recently, the Iraqi Air Force purchased 18 F-16s, which are scheduled to arrive beginning in 2014. According to Duffy, the purchase is a huge step toward the goal of a modernized Integrated Air Defense and a strategic partnership.
“This will be huge in giving the Iraqi Air Force the air space sovereignty that they need to protect their air space in the future,” he said. “Equally important to modern equipment is quality training and we’ve already begun to train their F-16 pilots. We have ten pilots in the pipeline now and two pilots in the F-16 international course in Tuscon. We also have over 300 Iraqi F-16 maintainers that are getting ready to start training in Jordan in July.”
Duffy said the day-to-day interactions of the OSC-I advisors, builds the trust needed to complete the mission.
“We have action officer advisors out there advising Iraqi Air Force leadership on a daily basis, asking them smart questions and at the same time, advising them on lessons they’ve learned. The trust built is important,” Duffy said. “We also have a Senior Advisor Group with a ton of experience on different aircraft and air defense systems. They interact with Iraqi senior military and government of Iraq officials daily.”
One of those Senior Advisors is Air Force Col. Steven Burgh, deployed from the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., serving a year-long tour as a mentor to senior leaders with the Iraqi Air Force and Air Defense.
“As a senior advisor, one of the most important parts of my mission is to be the primary liaison between the Iraqi Air Force Commander and the Chief of OSC-I,” he said. “During daily interactions, I’ll advise and assist the commander in executing his long-term strategy and, at the same time, inform him on how OSC-I can help him achieve his goals and objectives.”
Preserving progress in Iraq and building a partnership is something that will benefit all involved, said the colonel.
“I think it is vitally important for us to build on all of the hard work and sacrifice the U.S. military has made in Iraq since 2003,” he said. “Iraq is in the middle of a very dynamic and important part of the world. I think it will benefit both countries for us to build a strong partnership. The military to military relationship OSC-I is supporting will be an important part of the overall relationship between the U.S. and Iraq.”
As a vital part of the mission in Iraq, Burgh feels strongly about his part in the future of the country’s Air Force.
“This is a very important time in history as we transition from combat operations to a more normal military and diplomatic relationship,” Burgh said. “I feel very lucky to be a part of the team here in Iraq.”
Although the media was flooded with images of the “last U.S. troops” leaving Iraq in December of 2011, a group of servicemembers stayed behind or have since arrived to foster a relationship that President Barack Obama coined “an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” A relationship that the airmen of OSC-I are working hard to build and that will play a hand in the future of the region.