Friday, January 29, 2010

Veterans See Improvement in Iraqi Army

Staff Sgt. Mark Lowe, an infantryman assigned to "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, instructs a squad of soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 3rd Brigade, 8th Division, during a room-clearing exercise at Combat Outpost Hamiyah, Iraq, Jan. 14. Since taking over the patrol base in October, "B" Company has held several joint training exercises with their Iraqi counterparts.

Story by Spc. Ben Hutto

COMBAT OUTPOST HAMIYAH, Iraq – On an overcast day at Combat Outpost Hamiyah, Soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 3rd Brigade, 8th Division, listened intently as they received instruction from Soldiers of the U.S. Army's, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

Waiting for his interpreter to translate his instruction, Staff Sgt. Joseph Strauch, an infantryman assigned to "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, patiently demonstrated the finer points of clearing a building.

When his Iraqi-counterpart asked if his Soldiers were doing anything wrong, Strauch quickly reassured him.

"No, you guys aren't doing anything wrong," he said. "You've just reached the point where we can move on to the next level. Your guys are ready for more advanced training."

With a satisfied nod from the Iraqi sergeant, the training continued.

According to Strauch, the situation was a far-cry from what he experienced when he was trying to train the Iraqi Army for the first time five years ago at Forward Operating Base Justice.

"They showed up drunk with their weapons loaded, fingers on the triggers and no safety on," the native of Buffalo, N.Y., recounted. "There was so much chatter; every time we tried to show them anything there was a conversation. Rounds were going off left and right. It was crazy."

Since "B" Company's arrival at their patrol base three months ago, Strauch and his fellow sergeants have held several of these training events. What he is seeing from the Iraqi army these days is unrecognizable from his experiences during his prior deployment, he said.

"Back then, a lot of us had a sense that a lot of Iraqi Soldiers were just there for the paycheck," he said. "Now you can see that they have a lot more pride in the uniform they are wearing. In everything they do, it is obvious they want to do it well."

Staff Sgt. Mark Lowe, also with "B" Company, and Philadelphia, Tenn., native, agreed with Strauch.

"They are very eager to learn better tactics," he said. "They focus a lot more on safety now. It is encouraging when you see them looking at the cause and effect scenarios when they plan scenarios. That wasn't always there."

Lowe recounted his first experience with the Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm.

"We had heard so much about Iraq's million-man army," he said. "To be honest, it weighed on a lot of our minds. At the beginning stages of that war, I think both sides realized, very early on, just how ineffective a lot of their tactics were and how well ours work."

Lowe sees the Iraqi army improving at a rapid pace every time they train.

"Their doctrine has come a long way from Desert Storm," he said "You can see it in the way they run checkpoints; in the way they conduct raids and plan operations. Everything runs smoother and more efficiently."

As far as the Iraqi army has come, both Strauch and Lowe see ways they could improve.

"First and foremost, every Army unit has something they can improve on, but the Iraqi army has a ways to go as far as supplying their Soldiers," said Strauch. "Their flow of supplies doesn't always trickle down effectively. They have good equipment; it is just a matter of them getting it to the people who need it."

As the United States prepares to pull out of Iraq, Strauch is concerned that this need will become more apparent.

"We help out as much as we can with providing supplies, but we won't be here forever," he said. "Without ammo or equipment, it's almost impossible for any Army to be successful."

Strauch also said that the training he conducts with his counterparts will need to continue in his unit's absence.

"The United States Army has been working on and adjusting their tactics for 200 years now," he said. "The current incarnation of the IA started in 2004. They definitely have some catching up to do."

Still, Strauch is heartened by the progress the Iraqi Army has made.

"That's not to say that it's an impossible task, it will just require a lot more work," he said. "To see how far they have come in five short years is encouraging to me."

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