Female advisor invades Iraqi air space
A female Air Force pilot deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., works in a male dominated environment training Iraqi helicopter pilots.
Capt. Kacey Grannis, 721st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron, is the Iraqi air force's first female Mi-17 instructor pilot at Camp Taji, a job which she describes as one of a kind.
"My primary duty as an air advisor is to train, advise and assist their pilots by expanding their knowledge base," she said. "I'm an American Air Force pilot flying in an Iraqi air force bird built by Ukrainians with an Iraqi co-pilot in a combat zone. Everything from the challenges we have to deal with, to the rewards that we reap from our relationships with the Iraqi co-pilots and the sheer 'cool' factor of the flying we get to do is rather unique."
In the Iraqi military female pilots are scarce, and upon notification their new advisor would be female, some Iraqi pilots doubted Captain Grannis' ability to handle the helicopter's large frame. However, the captain decided to let her skills speak for themselves.
"There have been other female air advisors, but not in this air frame," she said. "For the guys I was flying with, I think they were maybe not really sure what I could do, but they were at least willing to let me fly with them and let me demonstrate my skills. I was fortunate enough to have the best training in the world, so I was able to do what I know how to do. I believe I've garnered the respect I needed.
"One of my very good friends here is a member of Squadron 4's leadership," the Sturgis, S.D., native continued. "He's one of the most experienced Iraqi pilots here - he's an absolute wizard in the Mi-17 and he's known for being skilled for hovering without the flight control assist system. When I first got here, he wanted to fly with me to kind of gauge my skills. As we were out flying, I asked him if we could do some hovering with the auto pilot off, simply because I knew it was something he would find valuable if I could do it properly. I feel like the fact that I was able to one - do it, and two - do it well, I feel like he responded well to that."
Captain Grannis, who has more than 50 hours in the Mi-17, trains Iraqi pilots who have many more hours in the aircraft than she.
"Pilots as a whole tend to be competitive and respect number of hours and skill level," she explained. "The dynamic itself is very interesting - the pilots we fly with have a lot more experience in the aircraft specifically than we do; there are definitely things that we have as coalition advisors to learn from these guys. They are definitely the experts on the aircraft systems and the performance handling characteristics. However, we're not necessarily trying to teach them how to fly, we're trying to teach them how to employ the aircraft in ways that are different from what they've done in the past."
Outside of the learning environment, the Iraqis have come to view Captain Grannis as family.
"I get a lot of attention because I'm a female, but it's very respectful attention," she said. "A lot of times these guys kind of treat me like their little sister which is a great honor to me because I know in Iraqi culture, family is very important. I'm honored that these guys consider me a sister. But I tell them 'outside the aircraft, I'm a woman, inside the aircraft, I'm a pilot. And because I'm your instructor pilot, you're going to do what I tell you to do.'"
One student who has responded well to the Captain's training is Iraqi air force Capt. Jabbar, who says he has no qualms working with another female advisor "if they are as talented as Captain Grannis."
"Captain Grannis is the first female pilot I've worked with," he said. "She's a very good instructor and she has good experience for training and teaching. She always gives good advice and she never gives up."
With the training he and his peers are receiving, Captain Jabbar has high hopes for his country.
"We're making good progress with our training, and I hope the Iraqi air force is a strong air force for this country," he said. "I wish peace for Iraq and I wish the Americans a good and happy life, and I hope they wish the same for us."
Captain Grannis does.
"This has been a great experience," she said. "I'm very fortunate to have been able to come here and meet all these great people. I'm honored to work with the officers, warrant officers and airmen of the Iraqi air force. Without exception, every one of them is highly patriotic and dedicated to the job they're doing and dedicated to the idea of a free peaceful Iraq, and I think that's amazing."
by Senior Airman Alyssa C. Miles US Air Forces Central Public Affairs
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