MUDAYSIS AIRFIELD, Iraq --
It’s a few hours before sunrise and Marines are at their vehicles preparing for the day’s mission. Once all of the appropriate checks have been made, they don their gear, load into their vehicles and begin their journey. About two hours later, the small convoy comes to a stop in front of a marksmanship range, just a short distance from what appears to be a small compound.
Marines from Reconnaissance Platoon, Regimental Combat Team 8, led Iraqi soldiers from the Commando Company, 29th Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, in a variety of training packages at Mudaysis Airfield, June 1-July 2, 2009.
“Initially we came out to do our part in helping with the Iraqi Security Forces professionalization,” said Capt. Joe Clarke, the platoon commander for RCT-8’s reconnaissance platoon. “This was something RCT-8 really wanted and my guys were happy about coming out to help.”
Although the recon Marines jumped at the opportunity to come out and train the Iraqi soldiers, there were a few hurdles they had to cross in the process.
“A large part of our platoon didn’t have prior experience training Iraqis,” commented Clarke. “So we had to look at our own skill set and pass on as much of our knowledge and training as we could.”
Even though their lack of experience could have potentially hindered some of the training, the Marines did not let that hold them back.
“The Marines have done some great things,” Clarke said. “Our vehicles were breaking down and we were having some issues with the training, but these guys maintained their professionalism and pushed through.”
“Without the limitless ingenuity and initiative of the Marines, this successful training mission would not have taken place,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Williamson, platoon sergeant for recon platoon.
Not only did the Marines put a lot of hard work into the mission, but the Iraqi soldiers also came out and trained feverishly alongside them.
“The soldiers’ skills were very raw when we showed up, but they’ve worked hard, and we feel very comfortable conducting a mission with them,” Clarke said. “They’ve really improved a lot.”
“It felt very rewarding seeing the commandos as strangers on day one, and subsequently becoming familiar with individual personalities, and watching the natural young leadership step up and jump head first into what the Marines were instructing,” Williamson commented.
The Marines didn’t just come out and push the Iraqis through the training, but they made sure to reiterate the importance of each aspect of the training and showed them how they can train on their own.
“There aren’t many units coming over to train with them so they need to know the process. It would be pointless to run them through a package without showing them how it’s done,” Clarke stated. “We reviewed everything from operational risk management to the construction of the range.”
“It’s invaluable that they learn the fundamentals of soldiering,” Williamson said. “These fundamentals will aid them in making sound decisions in continuing the security of their country when Coalition forces leave.”
Throughout the training, the Iraqi soldiers learned a variety of skills and techniques, but there was one that took slight precedence over the rest.
“The most important piece by far was the weapons manipulation, weapons handling and live fire,” noted Williamson. “Without a sound foundation of these skill sets, the soldiers would not be able to operate at their full potential.”
Both Clarke and Williamson agreed that the monthlong training package yielded great success.
“My definition of success is the fact that these relatively inexperienced soldiers handled their weapons safely and learned how to shoot, move and communicate with one another,” Williamson stated.
“This commando company is in its beginning stages, and their graduation at the end of this package can help to validate them to their higher headquarters,” Clarke said. “If this training can help this company grow in size, strength and capability, then it’s a definite win for the Iraqis and Coalition forces.”
As the Marines await the next movement, someone gives the command to load up and prepare for departure. In that instant, the training was over and the recon Marines and Iraqi soldiers had not only achieved success in creating a more capable force for the Iraqi Security Forces, but they had further strengthened the bond between Coalition and Iraqi forces.