Iraqi pilots have begun training on the first two F-16s purchased by their government, which were delivered to Arizona this week.

The pair of fighters, delivered to Arizona this week, are among 36 that had been scheduled for delivery to Balad Air Base, Iraq. The decision was made this summer to instead send the first portion of the Iraqi-purchased jets to the U.S. after Islamic State militants took over swaths of Iraq and forced the evacuation of U.S. contractors from the base.

The two Iraqi-purchased F-16s arrived Tuesday in Tucson, where Iraqi airmen have been training on American-owned F-16s, according to an Air Combat Command news release.

The Iraqi government purchased the 36 F-16s as part of the country's air force rebuilding effort.

"It's a nice feeling to finally have them here," said an Iraqi airmen identified in the news release only as Captain Hama. "They're not home yet, but we're going to start flying them and get them ready. Soon enough we'll be home flying them over Iraq."

Hama, described as the most advanced Iraqi student in Tucson, followed his father into military service, according to the news release. "I've had a passion for flying since I was a kid. I started with the army, but I just wanted to be a pilot. I had the chance to join the air force and become a pilot, so I did it."

The Arizona National Guard's 162nd Wing at Tucson International Airport heads up training for airmen around the world, including the Iraqi pilots.

"As with any new country there are certainly challenges, mostly communication – learning their culture and how they learn new things," Lt. Col. Julian Pacheco, the 152nd Fighter Squadron director of operations and a F-16 instructor pilot, said in the news release.

Maj. Gen. Lawrence Martin, assistant deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for international affairs, called the arrival of the Iraqi-owned F-16s "a tremendous step towards Iraqi air force pilots providing organic air power for their country."

"They are one of many countries joining a partnering coalition in the fight against ISIS and this delivery will greatly add to their capability in this ongoing fight," Martin was quoted as saying. "This type of partner aircrew training is mutually beneficial for students and instructors and promotes safe, integrated operations in a cost-effective environment."

Once the Iraqis complete their training in Tucson, they'll return to Iraq "and go right into operations," Pacheco said.

"With this new fleet of aircraft and the skills that we're teaching them here, they'll be able to protect themselves from threats, and hopefully bring peace to Iraq."

Six more fighters are scheduled for delivery to Tucson over the next five months.

The first two Iraqi pilots could graduate from pilot training in fiscal 2017, although the training could take longer.

"We're ready, anytime they want us to go," Hama said. "I just want to see my country like any other country, safe and the people living a nice life without the threat of being bombed or kidnapped by bad people."

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