By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 18, 2009 - The "advise and assist brigade" concept is a hit with leaders of the provincial reconstruction teams in southern Iraq. The 1st Armored Division's 4th Brigade, based at Talil Air Base, is the model of how U.S. forces will be configured when the American combat mission ends Aug. 31.
The unit came in for unqualified praise from Iraqi security forces leaders, judges and provincial reconstruction team leaders who met with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here today.
John Kuschner, the head of the Muthanna provincial reconstruction team, told Navy Adm. Mike Mullen that the brigade provides the help needed, when needed. "We feel they are here to support us," he said. "We feel we are in the lead and will have the support when we ask for it."
The brigade provides personal security teams when needed and full access to anyone on the base. The brigade also works with the teams on providing Commanders Emergency Relief Program money to projects all over southern Iraq.
Anna Prouse, the Dhi Qar provincial reconstruction team chief, was even more emphatic.
"I have to admit that I was wrong about the advise and assist brigade," she said. "The process works." Prouse, an Italian, leads the last coalition-led team in Iraq. She has been in the country since June 2003, when she arrived as a representative for the Red Cross.
"Intellectually, they get it," Prouse said, meaning the brigade's soldiers understand the importance of assisting civilian authorities with infrastructure and governance work.
She told Mullen that when dealing with conventional brigade combat teams in the past, she had to go to the very top of the coalition command structure in Iraq to get any cooperation. "The [advise and assist brigade] is a wild success," she said. "As far as the mission goes, we have everything we need."
And that carries over to the Iraqis, she said. "When they see us working together, they work together," she told the chairman.
The soldiers work in support of the provincial reconstruction teams, and Army Col. Peter Newell, the 4th Brigade commander, has stressed the need for all levels of his command to be responsive to requests from the teams.
The brigade also works in partnership with Iraqi security forces to aid in mentoring and training them in operations. Iraqi soldiers and police receive basic entry training and then report to units. In the units or the police stations, further training can be tailored to the conditions of the area or town. For example, while 4th Brigade soldiers train Iraqi police and soldiers in Dhi Qar province, other members train the Iraqi Border Police in Maysan province on the border with Iran.
When all American combat troops are out of Iraq at the end of August, the troops left will be members of these advise and assist brigades. They will have the firepower and knowledge to defend themselves, if needed, officials said. The Iraqis are in control of their provinces and will call when they need help.
"About 20 years and a million pizzas ago, I used to be in the service, and I know how soldiers regard civilians," said Mike Flannigan, the director of the provincial reconstruction team in Maysan. "But this unit works with us, and helps us do our jobs."