Few would consider learning the English language a military necessity, but for Iraqi aviators, it's a fundamental need to learn the internationally recognized aviation language as they work to rebuild their defense forces.
U.S. Air Force and Army advisers from the 721st and 821st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron here have teamed up to help Iraqi aviators and mechanics to master the core task.
Each night, from Sunday through Wednesday, Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Dent and Master Sgt. Vince Clevinger, lead a team of instructors who volunteer to tutor Iraqi Army Aviation Command's enlisted airmen to help with one-on-one English tutoring.
Dent, the 721st AEAS maintenance superintendent and air adviser, and Clevinger, the 721st AEAS avionics air adviser, greet the students with handshakes and brotherly embraces, welcoming them to the Technical Aviation English tutoring program. Dent and Clevinger take turns engaging the airmen in English before class starts and help them with the proper responses. Though some of the replies from the Iraqis are in a broken vernacular, the point is made -- they are learning to communicate in a second language.
The two air advisers created the English language tutoring program to further enhance the advisory and training mission, but also to build positive and enduring relationships one sentence, or word at a time.
"What we are doing in the classroom is volunteering our time to help them learn (conversational) English and technical English because it helps us in our mission," Dent said. "More important than that, we are U.S. ambassadors. The most important thing that we do over here, besides the obvious training and assisting, is we are representing our country. The relationships we build with the Iraqis are far reaching."
According to Dent, the class, which started nearly a month ago, lays a positive foundation for the Iraqi students giving them the tools needed to defend Iraq once U.S. forces leave. It has grown since the first class to the point that more than 50 IqAAC airmen are enrolled.
"We make it clear to them that we are here for them," Dent said. "It's a partnership, and it's more than just learning English."
While engaging a captivated audience, Clevinger, holding a piece of paper with a clock printed on it, turns the hands on the clock and asks the students what time it reads. As a group, they begin to answer, with one airmen saying, "o'clock" loud and clear once the classroom goes quiet, which elicited heartfelt laughs from fellow classmates.
"We are tailoring it to our mission and what's needed," Dent said. "If (the U.S. leaves Iraq), it's a win-win situation because we are leaving with a very positive message. We're taking the time to mentor the ones (who) we really feel need the mentoring; the ones (who) are not receiving the specialized training and are falling through the cracks."
There are two English classes being taught here. The Defense Language Institute, a formal course targeted at training Iraqi aviators and maintainers, and the voluntary Technical Aviation English program, a more informal course in a low-threat environment for those who want extra training -- officer and enlisted alike.
"I think it's really important to teach the enlisted as well as the officers in Iraq," said Capt. Karen Nealey, the 821st AEAS administrative flight commander. "It's important to leave a good impression with the people of Iraq. Our whole job here is to build relationships. Hopefully, they'll take this time with us and report back to their families that we were good to them, we took part of our time at night to help them out."
An IqAAC Mi-17 technical mechanic, who has attended the class since the first lesson, is one of those students who is very enthusiastic each night. He has grown up on Western television through satellite television available in Iraq and has learned a few things along the way. The class is a forum for him to actually practice the English he picked up from watching American television.
"I like the class, and I like the wisdom they teach us here," the Iraqi mechanic said. "Sergeant Dent and Sergeant Clevinger are smart teachers. We enjoy the time they spend with us, even teaching them our language."
Dent and Clevinger's volunteer efforts directly support the Iraqi Training Advisory Mission-Air mission. ITAM-Air advises, trains, and assists the Iraqi air force to develop as a professional and credible regional airpower partner with the ability to maintain internal security and defend against external threats.