By Army Spc. Tyler Lasure
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 20, 2009 - An instructor shouts commands in Arabic. Recruits snap into fighting stances. The instructor tests the recruits, shaking them and kicking their legs. One recruit makes a mistake, and the instructor drops him for push-ups. This training may seem like Army boot camp, but these men aren't preparing to be soldiers. They are training to become Iraqi correctional officers.
At the Iraqi National Training Academy on Victory Base Complex near Baghdad, Iraqi instructors are training four platoons of recruits to become the foundation of the Iraqi correctional system.
The academy is the first of its kind, and this is the first class to be trained entirely by Iraqi instructors.
"This facility, from the ground up, has been designed to be the leading edge of the American withdrawal of forces from Iraq," said Army 2nd Lt. Christopher Cahak, officer in charge of training with Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment. "It's an incredibly important mission. We take it very seriously, and this mission has been handed to the Wisconsin National Guard."
The company, based in Menomonie, Wis., is responsible for the supervises training and is responsible for the academy's logistics. It is part of the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team serving in Iraq.
"Our responsibility is to ensure there is a conduit of information between the Iraqi Correctional Services and the actual instructors and staff here on site," Cahak said. "We also have a supervisory role with their instructors to ensure they're teaching the material that is supposed to be trained in the order it is supposed to be taught."
Army Sgt. 1st Class David Wilson, noncommissioned officer in charge of training at the academy, compared the mission to that of a school principal and vice principal.
"It's hard to pinpoint a specific description of what we do," he said, "because we cover so many little different aspects, whether it's making sure they have uniforms, making sure they have water, making sure the maintenance and things are facilitated."
The six-week, Iraqi-led course consists of both classroom training and practical exercises, and covers restraint procedures, defensive techniques, handcuffing, the use of weapons, director general orders, basic human rights and the treatment of prisoners.
After recruits finish the basic course, they go on to an advanced, eight-day session taught by Wisconsin Guard soldiers that focuses on the specifics of running the U.S.-controlled internment facilities.
"This is probably the toughest thing the majority of these gentlemen have undergone in their lives," Wilson said. Still, he added, "It's rewarding in that we can bring our Iraqi counterparts up to the correct standard to conduct prison and correctional officer operations on their own and hopefully facilitate the withdrawal of the American troops because they will be operating independently."
Although language and cultural barriers sometimes cause problems, the soldiers say they see daily improvements in the recruits.
"They have only been here a couple of weeks and are taking pride in what they do," Wilson said.
The soldiers are to oversee operations at the academy until they return to Wisconsin early next year.
"We hope that we can get this facility completely run by Iraq so that they can continue to train professional Iraqi correctional officers in our absence," Cahak said.
(Army Spc. Tyler Lasure serves with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)