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Photo Information

FALLUJAH, Iraq - Petty Officer 2nd Class Phillip Jean-Gilles, a corpsman working with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's Iraqi Security Forces training cadre, demonstrates how to tie a tourniquet before a class of Iraqi soldiers and policemen here Aug. 1. Since mid-March, battalion personnel have trained approximately 600 Iraqi personnel on topics such as first aid in combat, infantry tactics, and convoy driving skills. Iraqi forces are fully integrated into every operation the battalion's Marines and sailors conduct in and around the city.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

1/6 eight-man team: Unlocking doors to Iraq’s future

17 Aug 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

The stone corridors that once housed bustling commuters and travelers lay ruined and empty under the scorching July sun. Piles of rubble, shards of plate glass, and walls riddled with bullet holes spoke of previous battles fought here. Only the sound of half-torn wallpaper that fluttered in the morning breeze gave any indication of those who once strolled these hallways. Someone walking through the ruins of northern Fallujah's abandoned train station might not see it for what it is; the proving grounds for the forces that will one day defend Iraqi’s security. It is inside these crumbling walls that service members from Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., are helping the nation's security forces rise from the ashes. This station is like a second home to Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who make up one of several Iraqi Security Forces training cadres across western Iraq. The team is comprised of personnel ranging in experiences from teenaged Marines to seasoned combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq alike. This group doesn’t wage war against insurgents by combing the city streets and the surrounding fields like their fellow brethren do everyday. They have a more permanent solution in mind; to train an Iraqi force capable of eliminating the insurgency within the country and continue to defend it afterward.Day 1: Healing old wounds "Welcome. My name is Sgt. Martins, and I will be your chief instructor for these next five days." The 26-year-old instructor from Queens Village, N.Y., paused after addressing the 46 Iraqi soldiers as he waited for an interpreter to translate his introduction to the class. The soldiers sat as a group much akin to what might be seen in any American high school on the first day of class; some slouched, a few dozed off and many sat staring curiously at their new teacher and unfamiliar surroundings. But unlike the halls of a traditional academic institution, Martins had assembled his pupils in a makeshift outdoor classroom inside a walled-off compound of the train station. Each soldier sat behind old school desks under a canvas roof erected by the cadre's instructors to shield them from the blistering sun and temperatures frequently reaching 120 degrees. Iraqi soldiers from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 2nd Brigade had arrived just before 8 a.m. from several bases throughout Fallujah to attend this latest combat leaders’ course. Henceforth, these troops would not be distinguished by battalion, region or military background they came from. They would be known as one collective team: Class 7-05. Martins peered out at the crowd before him. Some Iraqi troops wore desert camouflage caps; others used their uniform tops as hoods to further protect themselves from the raging sun. A few wore armbands, while fellow troops wore only an undershirt because they forgot their blouses at their base this morning. The training cadre had only five days to transform this rag-tag bunch into a professional fighting force, and Martins wasted no time. He immediately began the morning by instructing a class on detainee handling and searching procedures. "I teach the soldiers how to apprehend someone they see as a threat, or anyone who's acting a little suspicious," explained Martins, a former marksmanship instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. "I showed them the proper procedures to search people, and how to take them down to the ground if they start acting up." Martins and his fellow cadre members supervised the Iraqi troops as they moved through the practical application stage of the course where they patted each other down for weapons and contraband while fellow soldiers simulated holding rifles at the ready, providing security for the searchers. "We teach them to be polite and not treat the citizens they search like criminals," Martins stated. Security forces under Saddam Hussein's regime often brutalized and beat the people they supposedly protected. Cadre personnel teach the new Iraqi troops how to be 'firm but fair' with a populace that still often views them as corrupt and as contemptible as their predecessors. Martins told the troops that only by winning the trust of the community will the people continue providing them information about insurgent activities. The soldiers and policemen broke away for lunch after having completed several hours of classroom instruction and practical application sessions on personnel handling. After chow, they returned to their desks for a class on combat lifesaving instructed by Petty Officer 2nd Class Phillip Jean-Gilles. His assistant, Seaman Donald Martin, passed out sealed plastic bags containing cloth bandages, which the soldiers curiously prodded. As their studies moved into yet another practical application stage, they open them and practiced applying bandages to simulated injuries. “Basically, we teach these individuals how to care for other soldiers under fire while the mission is still going on," said Jean-Gilles, a Miami native. For the last part of this medical skills class, the corpsmen practiced the fireman and two-man carries alongside their students, as they showed the Iraqis how to hastily and safely evacuate a wounded man out of the line of fire. The clock then struck 3 p.m., signaling the end of the day’s classes. The Soldiers chatted excitedly while they donned their bullet-proof vests and prepared to leave the training compound. They had learned valuable information, yet it was only a taste of what awaited them in the following days.Day 2: On the offensive The alleyways, rooftops and ruined multi-story buildings found in Fallujah's streets make for a challenging battlefield that 28-year-old Cpl. Brandon Connelly knows all to well. Insurgents find hiding spots within the city from which to engage military forces, as well as several potholes and rubble piles they can place roadside bombs. At 8 a.m. sharp, Connelly commenced the second day's lessons with a lecture on these dangers and showing the students how to counter the threats. "I teach the soldiers what squad formations are, and how to communicate using hand and arm signals while on patrol," the Toms River, N.J. native explained. "Every soldier learns what their job is while patrolling and conducting operations in Fallujah." He made sure to give the troops plenty of five- and ten-minute breaks to refill their water bottles, as their entire morning would be spent gazing at Connelly and his patrol formation drawings on a chalkboard. After several hours, however, the soldiers had learned the specifics behind patrolling. Coalition and Iraqi forces' squads learn to maintain several meters of dispersion in between each other, as to avoid a concentrated amount of damage should an explosive device detonate near one of them. The Iraqi troops hastily ate lunch following this class and returned half an hour later, energized for a class and practical application session on conducting raid operation. Lance Cpl. Peter Benson, another cadre instructor, drew out several chalkboard sketches on how the Iraqis must position themselves before assaulting an insurgent hideout. Minutes later, the troops had put on their battle gear and slung their AK-47 assault rifles to go after the insurgent, who was played by cadre instructor, Pfc. Philip Pepper of Tallahassee, Fla. The soldiers surrounded the nearby building in trucks with mounted machine guns as fellow soldiers formed a protective perimeter. Others stacked up against the target building's walls before bursting in and apprehending Pepper. This crafty insurgent, however, 'shot and killed' two Iraqi troops before going down himself. Now, the Iraqi troops put yesterday's medical training to use, as they bandaged and evacuated their casualties back to the classroom.Day 3: Cleaning house The Iraqi troops lost men yesterday because they rushed headlong into a hostile room. Today, the instructors would help them rectify that mistake. Chief Warrant Officer Kenneth Silvers, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's gunner and combat leaders’ course curriculum developer, worked alongside his instructors to show the soldiers the safest way to clear buildings. He and Connelly stacked beside a doorway before aggressively rushing into the room. The troops observed as Connelly darted in first, rifle aiming forward at the ready, before breaking away. Silvers followed afterward. "Right side clear," shouted Connelly. "Left side clear," echoed Silvers. After a quick scan of the ceiling, one of them bellowed, "Overhead clear. All clear." "You have to be aggressive and loud when you go in there," Silvers instructed the Iraqi troops afterward. "The enemy is already scared because he knows you're coming in, so you want to set him further off balance by intimidating him with your intensity." Heeding Silvers' advice, the Iraqi soldiers then started practicing their own room clearing scenarios. The cadre members supervised the troops as they tackled a variety of tasks, such as working around obstacles inside rooms and ferreting out insurgents hidden in corners. Over their lunch break, the soldiers discussed the merits of the training. It had been an intense few days, but the Iraqi troops began to acknowledge the value of their newfound combat skills. "We see the strongest army in the world performing, and we try to perform as they do," stated Capt. Ahmad Tariq Muhammad, the senior-ranking member of Class 7-05. "This training will help us provide security to our area and our citizens. We are law enforcement men, who serve to protect the local people and safeguard their rights." The day's training concluded with a class delivered by Cpl. Shawn Campbell of Bucyrus, Ohio, during which he taught the troops how to form different offensive and defensive positions as a squad. Martins followed with an introductory course to what Marines call the five-paragraph order. In the course, the Iraqi soldiers learned how to plan out patrols and operations exactly the way U.S. troops do: by outlining what the mission objectives are, how they will be carried out, and what communications and logistical assets they may count on during operational execution. "Now, when they patrol with Marines here, they can understand exactly what's going on," Martins said. "They know what their mission is and how they should prepare for it. This way, everyone knows their role during an operation."Day 4: Every Iraqi soldier a rifleman During basic training, drill instructors tell their recruits that they can not earn the title 'Marine' until learning to accurately fire the M16 service rifle. Following that tradition, the Iraqi students may not graduate this course unless they demonstrated proper weapons handling skills. The Marines passed these skills to the soldiers on Day 4. The instruction provided to the troops included to keep their weapons safety on and their finger off the trigger until ready to fire, along with the proper way to tote their AK-47s while on patrol to avoid accidentally shooting fellow soldiers and citizens. Benson observed their progress, and showed them ways to quickly yet safely reload their weapons while on the move. "Once you get good at it, you can look cool, like this," he said, joking with the troops as he inserted a magazine into his rifle with his non-firing hand while walking toward a target. All this preliminary instruction prepared the troops for shooting the afternoon's course of fire, similar to the Marine Corps' Enhanced Marksmanship Program. This training package teaches students how to quickly bring their weapons up to shoot at close-range targets. Many of Iraq's new military forces are inexperienced in shooting and handling their AK-47 assault rifles correctly, much less be able to do so while in the chaos of a firefight. To correct this, the cadre Marines escorted their students to a nearby range outside the train station. There, they spent hours supervising and coaching students as they popped off thousands of rounds to hit human-shaped wood and cardboard silhouettes. Whether kneeling, standing, or walking toward their targets, the Iraqis shot off two rounds to its chest, and one to the head. These areas present accessible regions they can quickly shoot at with lethal results. Private Sayf Jamel Mahdy, a former student of the course who also helped the cadre Marines coach Class 7-05, said he plans to use training such as this for the good of Iraq. "We all benefit from learning how to shoot. We use what we learn to fight the terrorists still in Fallujah," Mahdy stated. "The people, the soldiers, the government officials ... we are all subject to danger (from insurgents), so we must take responsibility and do our part. Iraq is tired of the fighting; we can not stand by and let it last forever."Day 5: 'It all comes together' It was a long week for the Iraqi soldiers and instructors alike and both groups looked forward to the afternoon's graduation ceremony. Only one final hurdle remained to be jumped. Lance Cpl. James Ratay delivered a final class on setting up personnel and vehicle check points before the cadre Marines gave the soldiers the rest of the morning off to prepare for a final field training exercise. "The last day of training is the best time to see everything we've taught them. It all comes together," Martins exclaimed, after issuing the troops a five-paragraph order for the exercise. "You see a big change from day one to day five. You earn more respect for the students as you see them employing everything you've taught them." The combined force wielded their new knowledge, along with their rifles and street smarts, as they practiced surrounding, breaching and searching one of the train station's empty bays. 'Insurgents' like Campbell and Benson guarded a fake weapons cache inside, and simulated shooting and wounding some Iraqis as the troops raided their safe house. Hours later, once the 'terrorists' were searched and the munitions unearthed, the Iraqi combatants and their instructor cadre gathered once more inside the same bay they had just raided. The troops stood in formation and chatted excitedly amongst themselves as they prepared for graduation. Lieutenant Col. William M. Jurney, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's commanding officer, and several Iraqi troop leaders strode into the room minutes later to congratulate the newest group of combat leaders. "We have soldiers standing side-by-side here today," Jurney stated as he addressed the troops. "In the Marine Corps, we say, 'one team, one fight,' and you all represent this spirit. You are the future of Iraq." The troops then marched forward to shake hands with their commanders and receive their graduation diplomas. After a few last congratulatory remarks, they rejoined their parent units to continue fighting terrorism and enrich fellow soldiers with the knowledge and skills they now possessed. "I will continue to teach what I have learned to my other soldiers, because I enjoy it very much," Mahdy stated. "Someday, I wish to become an instructor myself."An ongoing battle Forty-six Iraqis are now small infantry unit leaders, but for the Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, their work has just begun. Thus far, battalion personnel have schooled approximately 600 Iraqi service members on topics ranging from infantry tactics to medical training, and base fortification to convoy driving skills. Silvers estimated that his unit will train approximately 300 more before returning to the U.S. "By the time we leave, every soldier here will have undergone some type of training," he said. Insurgents still lay roadside bombs and occasionally shoot off rounds at passing convoys, but peace has largely returned to Fallujah. According to battalion personnel, this is proof that the constant formal and on-the-job training they give the ISF is highly effective. "We have seen steady progress with the training, integration and operational capabilities of the ISF," Jurney stated. "The Iraqis, from the newly joined recruits to their senior leaders, have been working hard to develop a positive component of a new Iraq." “They’re doing an excellent job, and they’re getting better everyday,” added Lance Cpl. Brad McKee, an infantryman with Company B, who frequently patrols alongside Iraqi troops. “On a lot of the patrols I’ve been on, the soldiers found most of the weapons and improvised explosive devices.” Jurney added that when his battalion arrived here in mid-March, ISF soldiers helped Marines conduct counter-insurgency operations. Now, the opposite stands true. "We are now supporting their efforts to neutralize the remaining anti-Iraqi elements here," he continued. "When we first arrived, the ISF simply played a supporting role in our operations. 'Supporting' and 'supported' roles have shifted." The newest wave of future leaders, Class 7-05, has now returned to their units to pursue their role in the war with a new zeal that is partly caused by the skills they now possess. "For 40 years, we were oppressed by Saddam Hussein," Muhammad said. "The people are tired of the terrorists. We fight now to protect our families and for a safe Iraq. This is the feeling of all honest Iraqi citizens." As they have done since the beginning of their tour, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment will continue their fight beside their Iraqi brethren to fight for this dream. "We are taking full advantage of the strengths both of our forces bring to the table," Jurney stated. "It's one team, one fight, and the weary insurgents know it."