War on Terrorism

Friday, January 29, 2010

Veterans See Improvement in Iraqi Army

By Army Sgt. Ben Hutto
Special to American Forces Press Service

Jan. 29, 2010 - Soldiers from the Iraqi Army's 3rd Brigade, 8th Division, listened intently here as they received instruction from U.S. soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team. Waiting for his interpreter to translate his instruction, Army Staff Sgt. Joseph Strauch, an infantryman assigned to "B" Company, 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, patiently demonstrated the finer points of clearing a building.

When his Iraqi counterpart asked if his soldiers were doing anything wrong, Strauch quickly reassured him.

"No, you guys aren't doing anything wrong," he said. "You've just reached the point where we can move on to the next level. Your guys are ready for more advanced training."

With a satisfied nod from the Iraqi sergeant, the training continued.

Strauch said the situation was a far cry from what he experienced when he was trying to train the Iraqi army for the first time five years ago at Forward Operating Base Justice, where he said they would show up undisciplined and unprepared for training. "There was so much chatter," he said. "Every time we tried to show them anything, there was a conversation. Rounds were going off left and right. It was crazy."

Since B Company's arrival at their patrol base three months ago, Strauch and his fellow sergeants have held several of these training events. What he is seeing from the Iraqi army these days is unrecognizable from his experiences during his prior deployment, he said.

"Back then, a lot of us had a sense that a lot of Iraqi soldiers were just there for the paycheck," he said. "Now you can see that they have a lot more pride in the uniform they are wearing. In everything they do, it is obvious they want to do it well."

Army Staff Sgt. Mark Lowe, also with B Company and a Philadelphia, Tenn., native, agreed with Strauch.

"They are very eager to learn better tactics," he said. "They focus a lot more on safety now. It is encouraging when you see them looking at the cause-and-effect scenarios when they plan scenarios. That wasn't always there."

Lowe recounted his first experience with the Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

"We had heard so much about Iraq's million-man army," he said. "To be honest, it weighed on a lot on our minds. At the beginning stages of that war, I think both sides realized, very early on, just how ineffective a lot of their tactics were and how well ours work."

Lowe said he sees the Iraqi army improving at a rapid pace every time they train.

"Their doctrine has come a long way from Desert Storm," he said. "You can see it in the way they run checkpoints [and] in the way they conduct raids and plan operations. Everything runs smoother and more efficiently."

As far as the Iraqi army has come, Strauch and Lowe said, they see ways they could improve.

"First and foremost, every army unit has something they can improve on, but the Iraqi army has a ways to go as far as supplying their soldiers," Strauch said. "Their flow of supplies doesn't always trickle down effectively. They have good equipment; it is just a matter of them getting it to the people who need it."

As the United States winds down its military presence in Iraq, Strauch is concerned that this need will become more apparent.

"We help out as much as we can with providing supplies, but we won't be here forever," he said. "Without ammo or equipment, it's almost impossible for any army to be successful."

Strauch also said that the training he conducts with his counterparts will need to continue in his unit's absence.

"The United States Army has been working on and adjusting their tactics for 200 years now," he said. "The current incarnation of the [Iraqi army] started in 2004. They definitely have some catching up to do."

Still, Strauch said, he is heartened by the progress the Iraqi army has made.

"To see how far they have come in five short years is encouraging to me," he said.

(Army Sgt. Ben Hutto serves in the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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