American Forces Press Service
July 7, 2009 - U.S. forces in Iraq demonstrated their ongoing commitment to building Iraqi sovereignty in recent days with a historic first visit by a U.S. Navy ship and joint operations and training efforts. The USS Scout, an avenger-class mine countermeasure ship, pulled into port in Umm Qasr on June 30, marking the first visit by a U.S. Navy ship since the port transitioned to Iraqi control.
"Today was pretty significant," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vic Sheldon, Scout's executive officer. "Just having an Iraqi patrol boat come alongside on our way into port and provide security was pretty amazing to see."
Two Iraqi naval officers boarded Scout prior to its arrival and helped to navigate, Sheldon said. "This act alone shows Iraq's readiness to do what it takes to make things happen on their own."
After making port, Iraqi sailors visited Scout for a tour.
"We believe this is another step in making Umm Qasr a port we routinely visit just like any other foreign port in the world," said Navy Cmdr. Chip Wrye, executive officer for the Iraqi training and advisory mission in Umm Qasr.
Elsewhere, a group of Iraqi liaison officers has begun working alongside soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Forward Operating Base Warrior in Kirkuk. The purpose is to improve security and coordination.
The group comprises members of the Iraqi army, Iraqi police, Kurdish army and Iraqi oil police.
"It gives us a common operational picture," said Army Maj. Kevin Capra, brigade planner. "We are [all] sharing information on operations, coordinating movements and sharing intelligence."
During a recent vehicle-bomb attack in Kirkuk city, the liaisons proved to be a vital asset. The Iraqi police liaison spoke directly to the first police responders on the scene and was able to give the brigade's soldiers a clear idea of what was going on, Capra explained.
Another benefit of the coordination is to bring together groups that have had conflicts in the past.
"[We are] being open and transparent," Capra said. "If there is any question on what different elements are doing, such as [the Iraqi army] moving through contentious areas, we are able to notify all the leaders who need to know very quickly. This open dialogue really helps avoid unnecessary tension and overreactions due to misunderstandings."
In another cooperative effort, about 280 Iraqis arrived for training June 28 at the first Correctional Training Center course at Forward Operating Base Future in Baghdad. Over the next several days, 70 more future corrections officers were in-processed into what is slated to become the National Correctional Training Center for the Iraqi government.
"FOB Future provides the [Iraqi government] with a central location for training more cadets and building the capacity of the Ministry of Justice to provide trained and capable [Iraqi corrections officers] to its facilities," said Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Borrero, fusion cell and assessments sergeant major.
In accordance with the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, a task force at Future is assisting in the transfer of Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, and Camp Cropper in Baghdad to the Iraqi government by training Iraqi corrections officers for the transition.
"The Correctional Training Center is providing the basic training and advance individual training the [corrections officers] are going to need to fill the ranks at Taji, so that when the U.S. transfers authority of the Taji Detention Center to the [Iraqi government] they have a well-trained staff on hand," Borrero explained.
Along with building relationships, U.S. forces are building security and commerce in Iraq.
Soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team completed a bridge project June 29 southeast of Qurnah.
The project, which cost more than $122,000, included the removal of worn asphalt, fabrication and installation of decking panels, replacement of side barrier posts, and the construction of guide rails along both sides of the bridge.
The bridge was damaged as a result of an indirect-fire attack. It was built over a tributary of the Tigris River during the Iraq-Iran war.
"The completion of this bridge will go a long way into establishing security and economic stability for the people of the region," said Army Maj. Matthew Cody, brigade executive officer.
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian K. Fromal contributed to this article. Compiled from Multinational Force Iraq, Multinational Corps Iraq, Multinational Division South and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet news releases.)