CAMP TAJI, Iraq --
On his third deployment to Iraq, air advisor Master Sgt. Charles T. Wilder has first-hand knowledge of the history and progress of the Iraqi Air Force.
“It is crazy to see how far their Air Force has come,” said Wilder. “I was here in 2007 during the surge and then again in 2009. To come back here now, and see how far they’ve come and be at the center of that, is pretty cool.”
Wilder, who serves as the 370th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group air advisor under the newly established Coalition Aviation Advisory and Training Team, has deployed five times, three of which were supporting operations in Iraq. Wilder, a battle management command and control technician is deployed from the 552nd Air Control Group, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. He controls aircraft and directs weapons systems outside of air traffic control’s air space, making sure they get where they are going safely.
During his 2009 deployment, Wilder was presented with an unfamiliar aspect to his normal duties and was given an unexpected taste of life as an advisor.
“Our team’s job suddenly included integrating with Iraqi pilots to make sure we had a common understanding of air space procedures and to design an air space method that would protect classified operations,” said Wilder.
According to Wilder, during that six-month deployment, the Iraqi pilots were flying Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance missions and contributing to counter Improvised Explosive Device and Iraqi counter-terrorism missions in and around Baghdad, Iraq.
His previous deployment experiences gave him the tools to effectively do his job and now helps him lead 13 air advisors at Camp Taji. Their current expeditionary role is advising their Iraqi counterparts on basic maintenance practices. They assist the Iraqi maintainers by enhancing technical language abilities, updating operations center procedures and advising the Iraqi Army Aviation unit on munitions storage.
Wilder expressed how the team continuously seeks opportunities to expand their mission and the importance of what they’re doing.
“We advise here to increase Iraq’s lethal capability and sustainability to become a long-term partner for security in the region,” said Wilder. “English is the universal language of aviation, so therefore we have to start advising that technical aspect.”
Wilder, like all advisors, attended the Air Advisor Academy at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst before deploying to Iraq, where he learned fundamental advising skills. This helped prepare him for the cross-cultural communication barriers he would face working with foreign militaries.
“I can’t speak enough about how great the training was at the academy,” said Wilder. “But there is nothing that prepares you for that first time you’re in a key leader engagement with a partner nation and they request specific things or you’re simply trying to get past the language difference or cultural aspects of it.”
The air advisor slogan is “shoulder-to-shoulder,” which seems to describe Wilder’s commitment to stand side-by-side with his team and counterparts to accomplish the mission here.
“He’s brought a different perspective because he’s worked with the Iraqis before,” said Capt. Jordan Lawrence, 370th AEAG team Taji air advisor officer in charge. “He was able to pass on the knowledge of knowing the culture and how to interact with our counterparts. His experience as a senior noncommissioned officer and mentoring the younger Airmen has been extremely beneficial.”