By Gary Skidmore
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 9, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates got a first-hand look today at the training servicemembers receive here before they deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan. Gates met with 1st Infantry Division Military Transition Team members and got a first-hand look at an improvised explosive device display and an Iraqi culture class soldiers go through before deploying. The secretary also met with transition team members from the Army, Air Force and Navy.
The IED display contained many examples of different kinds of homemade bombs used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Soldiers in MiTT training are assigned to 11- to 16-man teams and train on survival skills and tactics, individual and crew-served weapons and equipment, communications, combat lifesaver skills and cultural awareness," said Army Col. Jeffrey Ingram, commander of the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Brigade. "Building the teams is arguably the most important thing we do here."
Bonding among the team members is a vital part of the training experience, Ingram said. "Once they get in country, the only ones they can truly trust are themselves," he explained.
"The transition teams are given classes about IEDs and go through training scenarios incorporating IEDs and their uses," Ingram said. "We teach them what to look for when they're in convoy here so they know what to look for when they are in country," he said.
The cultural class Gates saw was a leaders meeting. The scenario, which was set in Iraq, had the team leader, several team members and their translator meeting with a village mayor. The area Iraqi military commander was with the team and expressed concerns about terrorists within the village. Before long, the meeting got out of hand, with yelling taking place between the Iraqi commander and the mayor. Each team is taught to control such meetings, and Gates witnessed the team leader attempting to slow things down. After the meeting concluded, Gates spoke to the players of the exercise, telling them he was impressed with the cultural training they were receiving.
Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Johnson, Navy Chief Petty Officer Theron Miskin and Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Lucas had lunch with Gates and shared some of their feeling with him.
"He was interested in finding out what the mission was here and how training was going," Johnson said. "All three branches at the table told him they thought the training was worthwhile, considering where they were heading in just a few weeks."
Miskin noted he spoke to Gates about not knowing where he and his team were going once they get to Afghanistan, a problem unique to that theater. Gates told him he was aware of the problem and would look into the issue. Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, was on hand with Gates and recommended several resources for the teams to get information.
Lucas said he spoke with Gates about family. "He went around the table and asked how everyone's family was. I explained I've been married 10 years and have been on numerous deployments, so this deployment wasn't a big deal," he said.
Gates told the servicemembers he is doing his best to get the military out of these deployments, but that it's going to take some time, Johnson said. "He also said the training here is what he foresees in the future -- that we're going to become much more of a joint force than the individual services we are now," he added.
"We have deployed 4,194 (training team) personnel so far," Ingram said. "We not only teach them how to shoot, move and communicate, which are basic skills, but we (also) teach them how to be an advisor. We teach them about counterinsurgency, and we teach them how to train their counterparts," he said.
(Gary Skidmore works at 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.)