Combat Aviation Advisors Do you have what it takes?

  • Published
  • By Jamie Haig
  • 16 SOW Public Affairs
(This is part four of a four-part series on the 6th SOS)

The 6th Special Operations Squadron is a combat aviation advisory unit whose mission is to assess, train, advise and assist foreign air forces on airpower employment, sustainment and working with other military forces.

A combat aviation advisor from the 6th SOS helps friendly and allied aviation forces maintain their own airpower assets and integrate their resources into other multi-national operations when necessary.

Sound easy? Not at all.

"You've got to be well versed in your particular skill set, whatever that might be," said Lt. Col. Alton Phillips, 6th SOS assistant operations officer. "You're also a communicator, and must be absolutely knowledgeable about other aspects of airpower. You must be solid in your area of expertise and capable of pushing through cultural and linguistic barriers."

For example, the 6th SOS was sent to Iraq in 2005 to help the country's air force establish itself. Colonel Phillips and a team deployed to Iraq to work with the Iraqi air force on their fixed and rotary-wing capabilities.
"This wasn't a normal deployment for us," said Colonel Phillips. "Normally, we have time to perform an in-country airpower assessment, meet with host-nation personnel and formulate a strategy for achieving the commander's goals and objectives.

"From that we write a detailed squadron plan for moving a specifically-tailored combat aviation advisory team into the target country to perform the train, advise and assist mission.

"Instead, our CAA personnel deployed to assist and advise the Iraqi air force without knowing the current capabilities and limitations of their aircrews, maintainers and equipment."

The Iraqi air force had approximately 300 members and a few dozen aircraft in its inventory.

"We found that their pilots had very little recent flying experience and most of the aircraft were unflyable," said Colonel Phillips. "A great deal of energy was expended with the Iraqi airmen on issues ranging from personnel matters, to billeting, administration, and command and control. We also had to assist with organizing basic squadron functional areas. Additional challenges involved determining how and where aircraft parts and tools could be located as well as finding out how to utilize available funding sources."

Basically, the members of the 6th SOS were starting from scratch.

"It was difficult because most of the aircraft were marginally-effective, general-aviation resources, and the Iraqi air force did not have anything in the way of training plans, operating instructions or standard operating procedures," said Colonel Phillips.

But as combat aviation advisors, members of the 6th SOS are trained and conditioned to adapt to these situations.

With the exception of the C-130 squadron, located then at Ali Air Base, most operations conducted by the Iraqi Air Force were intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Part of the 6th SOS CAA job was to teach Iraqi air force personnel that they must be flexible and work with U.S. and Iraqi army forces, creating a joint and combined battlefield.

"ISR is worthless if you can't get the information to the other party," said Colonel Phillips.

Colonel Phillips explained a situation during his deployment where rapport built between himself and an Iraqi air force member made the difference between life and death.

Colonel Phillips and an Iraqi air force pilot, Capt. Ali Hussam Abass Alrubaeye, were flying home from Baghdad when they experienced an engine flame-out.

"At that point, the aircraft, a Comp Air 7 home-built kit plane, was nothing but a big glider," said Colonel Phillips. "We had to find a smooth location to land while communicating our problems at the same time."
Colonel Phillips made the necessary radio calls, and Capt. Abass landed the plane on a dirt road. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

Within 30 seconds of landing, the men noticed a rising dust trail on the road, indicating they were going to have company - soon.

"Captain Abass thought it best if the only person they saw was him, not an American military member," said Colonel Phillips. "Fortunately, we'd landed near a dirt berm where I was instructed by Ali to lay low and stay quiet while he handled the people."
This made it almost impossible for Colonel Phillips to communicate with the rescue crews since his hiding place was close to the downed aircraft.
Although U.S. Army helicopter crews had been notified of the forced landing, directing them to the location was almost impossible.

For an hour, Captain Abass had to deal with approximately 150 people who gathered at the downed aircraft.

Maj. Brian Downs, another 6th SOS advisor, heard the radio transmissions and immediately launched his plane, also a Comp Air 7, to help with the rescue.

Major Downs was able to direct the helicopters to the location.
As the helicopters and the airplane were seen in the distance, Captain Abass announced to the crowd that although he was their friend and their countryman, the incoming aircraft might not look upon the crowd as friendly and it would be better if they left the area.

The Iraqis did exactly that, allowing the two men to be rescued without incident.

"Captain Abass did a great job of keeping the crowds under control," said Colonel Phillips. "If I'd been with someone that wasn't as cool-headed or as intelligent as he was, I don't think it would have turned out as well."
This kind of rapport building and teamwork, and ability to adapt, is all a part of being a combat aviation advisor.

However, so is sacrifice.

On May 30, 2005, an Iraqi air force Comp Air 7 crashed while surveying potential emergency landing fields in the eastern Diyala province, killing everyone on board.

Those who died included Captain Abass, Major Downs along with Capt. Jeremy Fresques, Capt. Derek Argel and Staff Sgt. Casey Crate, combat controllers from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron.

"Major Downs did a great job of showing the Iraqis how much they could contribute to the fight," Colonel Phillips said. "He showed them how to operate in the joint and combined arenas and how to fight insurgents in their own country, using their own assets, in their own way."

This is what 6th SOS combat aviation advisors are - trainers and advisors helping other countries fight for themselves against terrorists and insurgents.

It's what they do.