LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, TEXAS —
The Inaugural Team of Lackland Military Training Instructors, which deployed six months ago to begin training Iraqi air force recruits, received a warm welcome home Sept. 28 and praise for their groundbreaking efforts overseas.
"The work that you did there in Iraq is critical to stand up a military that can defend itself long term, and in this particular region of the world, that is vitally important," said Col. Eric Wilbur, 37th Training Wing vice commander.
Six MTIs from the 331st Training Squadron and an officer from the 737th Training Group were deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq, with the task of launching a basic military training program for the Iraqi air force and graduating the first class of recruits, also known as jundis.
Fifty-eight Iraqis completed the 22-day course, with only five trainees dropping out of the program for various reasons.
"They walked into a place where infrastructure was mostly lacking or all together nonexistent," said Lt. Col. Thomas Schmidt, commander of the 331st TRS.
"They've done the dirty work for all the subsequent teams that will follow them."
According to Colonel Schmidt, a second team consisting of MTIs and an officer from the 324th TRS, 326th TRS, 320th TRS and 331st TRS is already in place, and more rotations are planned.
The military training instructors faced several challenges, from a language barrier which required the use of interpreters, to logistics, to a poor learning environment for recruits.
"They (jundis) didn't have adequate food," said Staff Sgt. Laura Saucedo, 331st TRS. "They didn't have adequate water. They did not have power. They slept in 110- to 115- degree heat at night.
"Yet, they woke up every morning still eager to learn and still hoping for something better at the end of the training."
Capt. Samuel Peters, 737th TRG, said the team "influenced" some changes by advising an Iraqi officer on how to better handle the life support type issues and create an environment more conducive to learning.
"Living conditions are still rough, but it's getting there and they are now being paid sporadically," said Captain Peters. "I have to hand it to the students, because they are training despite death threats."
Initially, there was concern that cultural differences could present a problem for the female MTI of the team, but that was not the case.
"She was well received," said Master Sgt. Clifford Drake, 331st TRS. "There were no problems whatsoever. The whole time she was out there teaching them they were paying attention.
"They welcomed us with open arms. They want to build their air force all over again to get their country back on its feet," Sergeant Drake added.
After graduating the first class, the team of MTIs refined the curriculum to better suit the Iraqis' needs and created a new warrant officer basic training course.
The officer course began its first class a few weeks ago with 77 students, and will run for 60 days.