NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) -- Iraqi pilots have been receiving training on state-of-the-art planes thanks to some helping hands at the Rhode Island Air National Guard Base.
It's not only a big honor for the local soldiers, but it also marks a big step in the relationship between the American and Iraqi militaries.
They call it the "Center of Excellence", and with good reason. The Quonset base was chosen to train the Iraqis to fly the C130J cargo planes, which were recently purchased by the Iraqi government.
"All these countries know this out there," said Lt. Col. Rick Hart. "The active-duty Air Force knows this, so they come to us, Little Rhody, to help out with a pretty big mission."
About 30 pilots from Iraq have been here since June, logging 250 hours of flight training with the aircrafts. As part of an agreement with the U.S., the Iraqi government is footing the $681 million bill for the training and six C130J planes.
"It's very important, as you know, the aircraft, it's a good aircraft and technology," said Iraq Air Force Brigadier General Muhammed Awni. "We are very happy for this aircraft."
Working together for months has given the local Guardsmen and Iraqi pilots a chance to bond as well. Both sides believe this bond will benefit relations for years to come.
"We've been their allies since '07," said Lt. Col. Hart. "We're helping them to rebuild their military and their Air Force."
"It will lead to maybe more done in 20, 25, 30 years, so it is a long-term relationship between our two countries," said Brigadier General Awni.
These Iraqi and American crews are now moving on to Georgia, where they'll be in attendance as the Iraqi government officially accepts the new cargo planes on Wednesday.
The first three C130J's will arrive in Iraq in the next week or so, with the next three set to get there in 2013.
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