By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP AL QAIM, Iraq, June 12, 2006 – Two empty houses in a neighborhood for engineers at a local power plant are proving to be a perfect training ground for Iraqi soldiers. During a recent exercise, U.S. Special Forces soldiers watched as Iraqi soldiers patrolled a street carrying brightly painted AK-47 assault rifles.
The Iraqis eyed the rooftops and held their garishly painted weapons correctly -- with two hands and their fingers not on the triggers, but over them. At the last two houses, they charged in. On the left side of the street, two "stacks" of soldiers checked out the house; on the right, it was a one-stack operation.
The Iraqis were members of the 3rd Brigade, 7th Division, based here. The brigade formed in March, and the soldiers were eager to learn from the U.S. Special Forces experts. "In clearing these houses, we teach them the same three things we learn: speed, surprise and violence of action," Army Staff Sgt. Jon Mentosk, with the 1st Special Forces Group, based out of Fort Lewis, Wash, said. "They're doing well and are enjoying themselves."
Iraqi noncommissioned officers ran the training for their "jundis" -- privates. The U.S. soldiers had trained the Iraqi instructors in an earlier class.
"The only problem is that (the instructors) want to correct the jundis as they are in the midst of the exercise," Mentosk said. "We have to remind them to wait until it is over for the critique." The instructors are key to the process here, the SF soldiers said. "These guys are the natural leaders," Mentosk said. "They lead from the front and will be the backbone of their unit."
The U.S. SF soldiers watched to ensure the Iraqis passed around leadership jobs so all the soldiers know what to do. "The tendency in their culture is to assign the leadership jobs to the oldest man," the sergeant said. "What happens if he gets killed or wounded?" The jundis responded 'gung-ho' to the training. They charged repeatedly into the buildings, honing their skills. Targets representing anti-Iraqi fighters, whom the men call them "Ali Babas," were in some buildings.
During the course of the exercise, the jundis moved from dry runs to using blanks in their AK-47s. The noise helps duplicate the confusion they will face in an actual operation, the U.S. trainers said. Following the exercise, the U.S. Special Forces soldiers critiqued the instructors.
After the constructive criticism, one American talked about what the instructors mean to Iraq. "You may be looking at the small picture, but remember that you are making history here," Army Sgt. 1st Class Gavin Hutchison said through an interpreter. "You will make a huge difference in your communities, your province and in Iraq."