By Spc. Emily J. Wilsoncroft, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 4, 2008 - "No one is more professional than I," states the U.S. Army's NCO Creed, and noncommissioned officers here are gearing up to instill the same pride and professionalism in their Iraq counterparts. The Task Force Marne NCO Academy at FOB Kalsu will welcome its first class of Iraqi soldiers Jan. 14.
"We're going to be teaching them everything – combat orders, combat medical, map-reading, mounted patrols, dismounted patrols, weapons, rules of engagement, duties and responsibilities," said Master Sgt. Michael Howle, the new training facility's commandant. "The instructors who were selected are supposed to be some of the best NCOs we have here."
Preparations for the academy have been under way for about five weeks, and the NCOs have built the academy from the ground up.
"We started this from scratch, nada, zero," Howle said. "A month ago, we had eight empty tents. Now we have four sleep tents, three classrooms and an office tent. We've also set up a (squad training exercise) lane on a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of our perimeter road, and we're having a shoot house built."
The classes will be small at first, with 20 soldiers in each of three platoons, Howle said. Subsequent classes will be larger, with the largest number of attendees projected at 180. Six instructors will be assigned to each platoon.
"We're building this place up for the Iraqis to take it over," said Master Sgt. Kenneth Romine, the academy's chief of operations. "Out of every class, we'll take three outstanding students to stay here and teach."
Training Iraqis to take over is a driving force for the NCOs running and teaching at the academy.
"Since this project kicked off, everyone's picked up a whole lot," said Staff Sgt. Mark Hooks, one of the program's instructors. "They all know that if we pull this off, we can hand it over and get out of here quicker."
He and the other instructors realize that this goal may not come to fruition right away, but they are remaining optimistic.
"It's going to take time to get their NCOs to the level we're at," said medical instructor Sgt. 1st Class James Phillips, who volunteered to teach at the NCO Academy for that very reason. "The sooner we can get them trained to teach their own people, the sooner we can get out of here."
During their last week of preparation before the first Iraqi soldiers arrive, the academy staff has been conducting full-dress rehearsals, covering everything from physical training to classroom material. Multinational Division Center Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse L. Andrews Jr. paid a New Year's Day visit to the NCOs there to check on their progress.
"You're doing a great job; I couldn't be more pleased," Andrews told the soldiers. "I really appreciate the hard work and dedication you're putting in here."
The academy's cadre has been training hard to be able to effectively impart the knowledge and experience they've gained over their years as NCOs, and are looking forward to pointing their new students in the right direction.
"This is a good step for the Iraqi army," said instructor Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Newton. "Once they get their NCO corps established, they'll be much better off."
Andrews shared a similar sentiment. "Over the years, it has been acknowledged that the NCO corps is the backbone of our Army," Andrews said. "Once the Iraqi NCOs get that, they'll get a better grip on their worth. They've got the combat experience. Now they need the institutional knowledge. You've got to have both."
(Army Spc. Emily J. Wilsoncroft serves with the Multinational Division Center Public Affairs Office.)