As dawn approached the Anbar province of Iraq on Tuesday, two MV-22 Ospreys soared over the desert. Not an uncommon site here, but what was uncommon was who was on board.
The Ospreys weren’t filled with Marines, but with Iraqi Army soldiers from the 27th Iraqi Infantry Brigade, 7th Iraqi Infantry Division. For the approximately two dozen IA soldiers on board the Ospreys, this was their first helo-borne operation.
While helo-borne operations are common for Marines, the Iraqi Army is still learning to get its wings. To assist the IA, Marines with Military in Transition Team 0720, Regimental Combat Team 5, and Navy SEALS with SEAL Team 1 have been training the IA on how to conduct helo-borne operations.
The current group of IA soldiers has been training for 20 days to prepare them for their first helo-borne operation. The training the soldiers went through included room clearing, marksmanship, patrolling, navigation and radio procedures.
"The ultimate goal is for them to conduct aeroscout missions," said Sgt. David Redford, 37, the primary aeroscout with MiTT 0720, who is from Kennebunk, Maine. "This is the most structured training (these IA soldiers) have received."
Aeroscout missions are helo-borne operations that can cover a wide variety of missions from cache sweeps to extracting insurgents. "Aeroscout missions are whatever the battlefield dictates," said Gunnery Sgt. Evan Good, operations chief, MiTT 0720, who is from State College, Pa.
Once on the ground, the IA soldiers had to apply the training they had received. With Marines and SEALS there to supervise, the IA soldiers quickly got into a patrol formation and began moving through a wadi east of Baghdadi, Iraq, looking for any suspicious activity or caches. The soldiers also talked to locals who live in the wadi and asked them if they had seen any suspicious activities.
Halfway through the patrol, the soldiers stopped for a quick break and to regroup. "This is their first patrol, but so far so good," said Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Adams, a member of SEAL Team 1.
The soldiers continued to push through the wadi, talking to locals and searching buildings as they came across them. At each building they came too, the soldiers quickly cleared them and inspected the surrounding area for anything out of the ordinary.
"They are doing a lot better than when they started," said Redford. "They’re doing real good." As the patrol came to an end, the soldiers were picked up by the Ospreys and brought back to their camp on Al Asad, Iraq. Though the patrol didn’t produce any proof of insurgent activity, it did assist with continuing the training for the IA.
"Since the training began, the trainers have given us a lot of good skills," said Warrant Officer Emad Majed Issa, sergeant major, 27th Iraqi Infantry Brigade, 7th Iraqi Infantry Division. "There is a lot more we can learn, but we got to demonstrate what we were taught."