By Army Spc. Samuel Soza
Special to American Forces Press Service
Dec. 9, 2009 - Iraqi security forces are constantly stepping up their role in the protection of Iraq, from the heart of the country out to the borders, where the Iraqi coast border guard can be found at work with U.S. Army border transition teams. "Our primary mission is to coach, teach and mentor Iraqis as we get ready to transition out of Iraq and let them take complete control over their own security," said Army Capt. Matt Hagerman, chief of a border transition team that works with the 17th Fires Brigade.
To meet that goal, the teams share their assets -- physical and intellectual -- to help the Iraqis create a force that can operate long-term.
The coast border guard consists of four "boat groups" and a land-based battalion that patrols the land along the Shat al-Arab – the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- and the costal border with Iran from Faw to Basra.
During a recent trip to the coast border guard headquarters, Hagerman and a team of soldiers brought an assortment of training subjects to Gen. Shehab, a key leader in the Iraqi force. Together, they created a curriculum, meant to be taught in the hours between patrols, that will supplement longer courses taught by the U.S. Navy's Riverine Squadron 3 that focus on water operations.
"The classes that we teach primarily focus on the land battalion, but are also classes that can be water or land, such as basic first aid or detainee operations," said Hagerman, a Williamsville, N.Y. native.
Other classes the border transition teams teach include radio and communication operations, targeting and close-quarters combat. "We're there now to help them improve as an organization, like you would for any friend and any ally," Hagerman said.
One of the greatest challenges has been learning to communicate not just between national cultures, but between naval and Army cultures as well, he said. The two groups have had to learn different vocabulary to understand each other enough to know what sort of information is relevant to the operational goals.
"The language barrier is actually not that difficult for us," Hagerman explained. "The coastal border guard leadership is an extremely well-educated, intelligent, and dedicated group of Iraqis," he said, "many of whom speak English and other languages, such as Chinese and Russian."
With strong leadership and plenty of training, Hagerman said, he finds the greatest satisfaction when he sees the Iraqis in action.
"One of the greatest things is when the coastal border guard does something completely independently," he said. He noted a particular instance when the U.S. border transition team was making a trip to meet with the coastal border guard and stumbled upon a large, coordinated training operation, complete with instructors and graders, involving the troops they had been training.
More independent operations will come as the two forces work together to protect the borders of Iraq, Hagerman said.
"The partnership is absolutely critical," he said. "Not only does it help the long-term security of Iraq, but it also fosters cooperation and understanding between our two countries."
(Army Spc. Samuel Soza serves with the 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)