KIRKUK, Iraq The term example is defined several ways by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. It can mean one that serves as a pattern to be imitated, a representative of all a group or type or an instance to illustrate a rule or precept. Tech. Sgt. Toya Stone and Staff Sgt. James Gaffney of the 321st Expeditionary Mission Support Advisory Group are doing all of these for the Iraqi air force at Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq.
Gaffney is deployed from Minot Air Force Base.
As Operation New Dawn continues, both Stone and Gaffney have set patterns and advanced the knowledge of the Iraqi air force communications field to operate efficiently like that of a U.S. Air Force communications squadron. Along the way, they have built several friendships which allow a trusting relationship between the two parties.
"Before I was selected for this assignment, I had questions about what we were doing in Iraq," said Stone, a military satellite supervisor from Offutt AFB, Neb. "Since I've been here I truly believe we are doing good things."
Each day Stone visits with the Iraqi air force communications commander, and several of his officer and enlisted airmen. She spends a few hours in the morning talking and training the airmen on different communication infrastructures such as high-frequency radios, computers, and the internet. Her goal is to have them operate as closely as any communications squadron would for the U.S. Air Force.
Part of working with the Iraqis is building tremendous rapport and often times, friendships. Over the past several months, Stone said she has a wonderful friendship with the Iraqi communications commander and several other communications officers.
She said for the Iraqis to listen to them and take their advice, there has to be a level of trust built.
"We have to show them that we're trustworthy," the Louisville, Ky., native said. "We're building relationships by talking to them instead of just working. They want to know about us and they ask us the right questions to get the personal information out of us so they can trust us."
One Iraqi air force officer stated the time he and his co-workers spend interacting with their advisors will provide tremendous results in the future.
"Their assistance is needed," he said. "[Sergeants Stone and Gaffney] help me almost too much and we have become very close, like good friends."
Gaffney, a Troy, Ill., native, hasn't worked with the Iraqis quite as long as his co-worker has, but the trust he's gained from them has also contributed greatly to getting his message across.
"I was nervous the first day I met them," he admitted. "I tried to use all the language and training classes and after a while they were really friendly and talked a lot. When you're trying to give someone advice on how to do something, it's important to have that friendship because if you don't, they will think 'why should I trust them or listen to their advice."
Stone also must work around the daily schedule of the Iraqis. Their set hours don't always allow for ample training time, so she must visit twice a day to give the Iraqis as much information as she can.
"Because I'm an adviser I get to see them and work with them first-hand," she said. "They believe in what we're doing and it makes me feel like I'm actually contributing to them sustaining as an Air Force."
Working alongside each other, Stone and Gaffney, a network infrastructure technician, combine their expertise daily and carry out a plan which points the Iraqis towards success.
"We are doing something that is very good for someone else," Stone said. "Any chance you get to be an example for someone you should take it. People will look up to you and appreciate you if you just set the example for them and that's what we're doing."
The Iraqis are taking note of the examples they're receiving. When Stone first arrived in Kirkuk, she began assisting Iraqis with programming radios and has recently been thrilled with the progress she's seen.
"About three weeks ago I saw them training each other and it made me so happy and proud to see them actually sharing the information with each other instead of holding onto it," she said. "We're leaving them in their own, capable hands. Everything they need we're giving to them and I know that they'll be able to do everything. They want to and they're yearning for it."
Stone said the Iraqis she's come into contact with have definitely changed their perspective about Americans. She believes the visual contact and personal trust has made a significant impact on everybody.
"It's the human quality that they're getting from us and not just the 'taking over' and telling them what to do," she said. "We tell them what works for us and they should try it. They have accepted and are receptive of that."
Maj. John Dautel, 321st Mission Support Advisory Group Det. 3 chief, said they mostly have one person per career field in to help train and advise and will use whatever means available to get the job done.
"We are fully here to train and advise the Iraqi air force," the major said. "We utilize the expertise of all the U.S. assets through coordination with other units to provide training plans to set the Iraqis up for success."
Now that the Iraqi air force communication airmen know the basics, Stone and Gaffney are creating training courses to advance the Iraqi's knowledge and give them the tools they need to sustain and succeed in the future.