Special to American Forces Press Service
May 28, 2008 - U.S. soldiers working together with their Iraqi counterparts is an important step toward Iraqis taking charge of their nation. A fire team at a joint security station near Camp Taji, northwest of Baghdad, is a model for a successful transition from a dependent Iraq to a sovereign nation that can secure the people.
The fire team consists of both Multinational Division Baghdad soldiers and Iraqi soldiers from 36th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division. U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Rios, a native of Sebastian, Texas, serves as the team chief. He is assigned to the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment "Wolfhounds," 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team "Warriors."
The formation of the combined group initially came together out of sheer necessity when Rios' soldiers were reassigned to other duties or left the area for environmental morale leave.
The sudden moves forced the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers to learn to work together and overcome linguistic barriers. Overcoming those barriers was a challenge, Rios said, but they were eased through the use of interpreters and hand signals.
"The most amazing aspect of the fire team is that we speak so little to each other," Rios said. "We work mostly by hand signals and knowing glances."
Acknowledgement, he explained, is made by a simple nod.
"They work like any other fire team in a modern army," he said. "They know their jobs, take directions from their leader and execute. They are well-rehearsed and work flawlessly together."
Rios said he believes in the soldiers' ability to work as members of a team. In fact, he added, they train together every chance they get. During their available free time, they come together to work on close-quarters-combat drills, practice search techniques for vehicles and buildings, and constantly refine their battle-drill skills. All team members know what they are expected to do when hostile contact is made.
"He is a good leader," said Hamed, an Iraqi soldier from 36th Brigade. Hamed has been on Rios' team since the beginning. "[He's] patient and decisive, and very funny, too."
Even with a language barrier, Rios is passing on his knowledge and preparing the Iraqi soldiers to be future leaders. He said his vision is to be a force multiplier by being an example so these soldiers can one day show their future soldiers how to be proficient warriors.
Rios said he demands excellence from his team and doesn't allow them to give less than their best.
"I want 100 percent from them -- their undivided attention. If they work hard now and train properly, when it comes to firefights and real-life matters, they won't have to think about it," he said. "I want them to identify what they must to do and execute."
(Army Spc. John Ahn serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)