FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Fathal Jabbar and his 19 comrades sit together atop stone bleachers, proudly clutching red folders tightly in their hands as they swap stories about their experiences over the past few days.
Beside them their officers speak with American commanders occasionally looking back at the jundi (privates) and smile in satisfaction as they recognize the pride their troops are feeling.
Today marks a special day in the lives of Jabbar and his comrades. He and fellow soldiers from the Iraqi Security Forces’1st and 2nd Battalions, 2nd Brigade, have graduated from the first squad-level infantry skills training course conducted by 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel here.
“The training was very, very good,” stated Jabbar, a Baghdad native and class honor graduate. “All the information the Marines have taught me I will teach my troops now. God willing, we will do our job of protecting the future of Iraq.”
Five days ago, these soldiers had stood before a group of U.S. Marines prepared to learn tactics that will save theirs and their troops’ lives on the country’s urban battlefields.
According to Chief Warrant Officer “Gunner” Kenneth R. Silvers, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s gunner, battalion medical and infantry personnel spent five days teaching the Iraqi soldiers topics such as patrolling tactics, first aid in combat, and urban war fighting skills.
“This course is geared toward the fire team leader concept,” explained the 37-year-old Rome, Ga. native and the course curriculum’s developer. “They have squad leaders in their units already, but didn’t really understand the concept of a team leader. We’ve given them the skills so when they go back to their units, they can be made team leaders within their squads.”
According to Silvers, the Marine instructors, who were chosen from the battalion’s four infantry companies, had their students conduct a live-fire range with their AK-47 automatic rifle on the first day of training. The range was similar to the one Marines with the battalion completed prior to deploying here.
“This was kind of similar to the Marine Corps’ EMP shooting package,” he explained.
Silvers referred to the Enhanced Marksmanship Program, a training package that teaches Marines how to quickly shoot targets at close range and rapidly reload their weapons.
“After that, (the Iraqi students) do a ‘shooting house’ (maze-like structure made up of barriers) here, where they learn how to move through a structure and clear rooms,” Silvers continued.
On the second training day, the soldiers learned how to conduct cordon and search operations.
Jabbar and his fellow students establish a perimeter, or cordon, around the target area to ensure no one entered or left while the operation took place. The students then enter the building and question those inside while others search the premises.
This training was followed by lessons in basic troop movement and formations.
“We also teach them some basic patrolling tactics that day,” Silvers said. The Iraqi soldiers learned how use hand signals and move as a squad while simulating patrolling through Fallujah’s streets.
“These classes are similar to those Marines receive in boot camp and Marine Combat Training ( MCT),” Slivers added.
Training day three brought more patrolling for the soldiers as well as instruction in conducting Vehicle and Personnel Entry Control Point operations. Here, the troops practice setting up and manning stations where they check personnel for concealed weapons, explosive devices and anti-Coalition and Iraqi government propaganda. Currently, Iraqi soldiers and U.S. troops man numbers of these stations throughout Fallujah.
“On day four, we taught them to give and receive an operation order,” Slivers explained. “The orders process for them is nothing like we have in the Marine Corps. So we taught them how we do it.”
Marine leaders issue these written orders before every operation. The reports state the mission’s objectives along with the details on how the operation will be conducted.
The final day of training consisted of a final exercise that put all their newly learned knowledge to the test.
“The exercise lasted about five hours,” Slivers stated. “It’s a culmination of everything they’ve learned. Basically, an operation order is issued and the two squads go out to conduct a patrol. They move over to (a nearby) building, cordon it off, enter it and then clear the bad guys out of it.”
The Iraqis simulate taking casualties as they clear rooms, putting their medical training to the test.
The troops run through this evaluation twice so that each squad can conduct a different aspect of the operation. “After that, it’s on to the graduation ceremony,” Silvers added.
All 20 Iraqi soldiers successfully completed this first squad-level training course, and the instructors said they were impressed by the soldiers’ quick understanding of the training material.
“At first, there was a little bit of difficulty with the translation, but the students really wanted to learn, so we made it work,” stated Cpl. Randolf S. Ramirez, one of the chief instructors. “There was a lot of initiative coming from this crowd. At first, they were kind of laid back, but by day five they were all into it and wanted to do all the training. I’d say they’re fully developed grunts (infantrymen) now.”
Despite the soldiers’ general motivation level, the instructors recognized a few extraordinarily motivated soldiers.
Silvers said Jabbar finished as the class honor graduate because of his leadership skills and all-around motivation. Additionally, the instructors recognized four other soldiers for being outstanding squad leaders. “Every day, we’d rotate the squad leaders out,” Silvers continued. “Through that rotation, we found those who stood out above all the others.”
At the troops’ graduation, Jabbar received a tool kit, including a mini shovel, flashlight and Gerber multi-purpose tool. The four other “honorable mention” soldiers received a multi-purpose tool, as well.
The ceremony also featured appearances from Iraqi Brig. Gen. Juad Khudun, the 2nd Brigade’s commander, and Lt. Col. William M. Jurney, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine’s commander. They congratulated the soldiers and presented each of them a diploma and class photo.
“During this time, we have benefited from the experience of the Marines,” Khudun stated after the ceremony. “My soldiers and the Marines are working as one family in the streets of Fallujah. We are grateful for the Coalition forces helping us create a new Iraqi army.”
These soldiers, though, are only the first to benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Marines here supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Operations permitting, we’re going to keep on doing this type of squad training once every other week,” Silvers stated. “There’s also leadership training planned out over the next several months at the platoon, company, and battalion-sized unit level.”
For now, the local soldiers and their leadership remain grateful for the Marines’ help, and look forward to serving their country.
“A big concern for the soldiers is helping to rebuild Iraq,” Khudun stated. “The Marines’ training has helped them to protect Iraq and protect themselves. We will help bring about security to this free and democratic new Iraq.”