US Army, December 26, 2018 - CAMP TAJI MILITARY COMPLEX, Iraq by Capt Aaron Shaffer
35th Combat Aviation Brigade – The Spanish army aviation unit “Task Force Toro” from Sevilla, Spain, departs here in December.
Task Force Toro is currently assigned to the 35th Combat Aviation Brigade “Task Force Trailblazer,” headquartered in Sedalia, Missouri. Task Force Toro completed aviation missions in support of Coalition efforts for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve.
“Task Force Toro increases our rotary wing heavy lift capability by one third. Their ‘can-do’ attitude and drive to get the mission accomplished has had a positive impact on our aviation operations,” said Col. Charles Hausman, 35th CAB commander.
The specialized Spanish helicopter unit that formed Task Force Toro was built by combining personnel and resources from different Spanish military aviation and support companies throughout Spain.
“There are people [here] from different units within Spain,” said Maj. Gala Gallego Soro, Task Force Toro commander, from La Línea de la Concepción, Spain. Her unit is from Sevilla, the other soldiers’ units making up the task force are from Madrid and Ciudad Real.
Being integrated into multinational operations was a first for most of the U.S. and Spanish Coalition partners, which fall under Task Force Trailblazer.
“This is the first time many of the U.S. Soldiers have had to work side by side with the Cougar aircraft,” said Hausman. “As aviation professionals it is always exciting to get to see new aircraft, and the opportunity to ride and fly in formation with them is a memory that many of our aviators will remember for a long time.”
This is Spain’s first deployment of an aviation unit to Iraq. Spanish military leaders first approached Gallego in Feb. 2018, with a special assignment for her to command the newly-created Task Force Toro. She expressed how honored she would be, to be the first Spaniard to command their aviation operations here.
“Not everybody in this career has the opportunity to lead a unit in a mission abroad,” said Gallego.
An aviation commander must know all the conditions for all the missions from planning to execution, including each aircraft’s requirements and capabilities. According to Gallego, commanders must also be able to recognize when changes are needed. This deployment brought some not so obvious challenges to the table, one of which was a how to effectively communicate despite language barriers.
All of the operations conducted here are in English and Spanish pilots assigned to Task Force Toro have varying levels of fluency in speaking and understanding English. This brought a challenge for the Spaniards in being able to effectively communicate with air traffic control operators, which also was a challenge when jointly conducting missions with other aircraft being flown by U.S. pilots.
“The language barrier can be difficult at times, and requires patience from both parties,” Hausman said. “Overall, the Spanish Soldiers speak much better English than the U.S. Soldiers speak Spanish.”
Gallego recognized this challenge early and implemented special work schedules for the pilots based on individuals’ language skills. She integrated personnel into missions as translators so the pilots who could not speak English well could contribute to the missions. Gallego also flew the aircraft in missions herself when needed, which helped other pilots maintain required rest schedules.
Task Force Toro had other challenges such as the summer desert heat, which reached temperatures of more than 50 degrees Celsius, or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, within their helicopters’ cockpits. Sand and dust, being able to timely receive equipment and helicopter parts, and issues regarding Iraqi customs procedures were also difficult to manage.
Despite all challenges, and only having a small number of Cougar AS-532 and Chinook CH-47D airframes, Task Force Toro successfully adapted to the requirements and demands of the CJTF-OIR mission set.
The Spanish brought more to the Coalition than just successful mission completion, they also brought successful collaborative teamwork. “I am very proud of the accomplishments that Task Force Toro has had since their arrival in theater. They are a great part of the team that we can depend on to accomplish the mission,” said Hausman.
Task Force Toro’s success is evident in their statistics. In less than six months the Spaniards completed over 150 missions. In all 150-plus missions, they flew nearly 700 hours, carried more than 5,100 passengers, and transferred over 350,000 pounds of cargo.
Since the 35th CAB took operational reigns as Task Force Trailblazer on Aug. 23, 2018, the Spanish completed over 50 missions, flew over 400 hours, carried nearly 3,000 passengers, and transferred more than 150,000 pounds of cargo.
“TF Toro has been an integral part of all of our aviation operations from day one. Their experience and professionalism has resulted in a successful rotation to Iraq,” said Hausman.
Spain’s involvement demonstrates how the Coalition is built on international operational synergies that embrace devoted service men and women who strengthen the multinational unity that is Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.