AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq -- Any drill instructor can tell you that making warriors out of young men and women fresh from the civilian world is challenging, but ultimately a rewarding task. The long hours, the high expectations and the cost of failure all weigh heavily before the ultimate day of graduation and the turning over of their charge to the wide world mark their success.
Marines from D Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., can perhaps understand a little more clearly exactly what kind of challenge it is to train men in such a way.
They were tasked with training a unit of Iraqi soldiers in urban fighting techniques here to bolster the Iraqis’ confidence in their abilities and allow them to take an ever-increasing role in combating the insurgency. Specifically, their task was to perform rehearsals for a raid on a gas station squatting beside a stretch of highway known for improvised explosive device emplacement and other insurgent activity.
This responsibility gives Marines like Lance Cpl. Jose D. Hernandez, a 21-year-old Los Angeles native and scout team leader with 3rd Platoon, D Company, a chance to both work with a foreign military, as well as show them the “tricks of the trade” in urban warfare.
“We’re trying to get them some hands-on experience with our techniques so they’re comfortable with them,” said Hernandez, a 2002 Birmingham High School graduate.
It was a cool, windy day along the stretch of road, straddled on either side by flat desert. Only a cluster of pale yellow buildings, severely damaged in an attack of indeterminate origin, poked out of the surface of the ground. It was there Hernandez and his fellow Marines would be working with the Iraqis.
“This is our combat prep and rehearsals. You can’t go just off what you rehearse, but you want to know what the guys to your left and right are going to be doing,” Hernandez said.
The Marines use the “teach by example” method. They demonstrate the proper way of patrolling, closing ground once contact has been made, then flooding the house with violence of action and communication with each other. Then they have the Iraqis perform, squad by squad, an assault on the same building.
“We’re showing them how to communicate and have control in (military operations in urban terrain),” said Hernandez. “That includes how to set up cordons and the right way to do room clearing.”
Hernandez said he has seen a lot of improvement in the Iraqi soldiers since the first time his unit worked with them.
“This is my second time training the Iraqis, and they’re starting to take it seriously. They like to learn,” he said.
A lot of little things have improved, according to Hernandez.
“They didn’t used to pay attention to little things, like having a cover man when they were searching people,” he explained.
Hernandez holds out hope that this kind of training shows exactly what kind of future Iraq has. Instead of doing all the heavy lifting, the Americans are stepping back and letting the Iraqis take the lead.
“Now they’re getting to do things for their own country,” Hernandez said, “and playing their own role in Operation Iraqi Freedom.”