By Army 1st Lt. Caleb Walkup, 1st Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment
IRAQ -- Mortar instructors from the U.S, Australia and New Zealand trained Iraqi troops on the use of their recently acquired M120 mortar systems, Sep. 1-12.
The new mortar systems replaced the Iraqis’ Serbian 120 millimeter mortars. The M120 system is more accurate, has additional safety features, and increases the Iraqi army’s ability to deliver indirect fires in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Army officials said.
The U.S. soldiers, from Bandit Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, worked alongside mortar instructors from the 6th Royal Australian Regiment and the New Zealand military to train more than 70 members of the Iraqi mortar brigade.
“The Australians themselves had never fired the M120 mortar system so when they found out there were some Americans here who had experience on it they quickly asked for our assistance,” said Army Staff Sgt. Merrell Dews, an Infantry Mortar Leader Course qualified noncommissioned officer and Bandit Troop’s mortar section leader. “Of course we were more than happy to oblige.”
The mortar training event was the second of three sessions and allowed the U.S. and Australian advisors to share their standard operating procedures for the M120 mortar system with the Iraqi troops.
The first session took place Aug. 18-23 and allowed the Iraqi mortarmen to show the instructors their current SOPs and methods.
One surprise for many of the U.S. troops was that many of the Iraqi soldiers were in their 40s and 50s, while many U.S. soldiers are in their early 20s.
“They’re much older and more experienced than what I originally thought they would be,” Dews said, “I can tell these men have been firing mortars for many years.”
One of the Iraqi mortarmen said he had been in the Iraqi army for over 34 years.
“Hypeman,” as the veteran Iraqi soldier is affectionately referred to by the Bandit Troop mortarmen, said, “I take pride in working with American soldiers because I know the importance of remaining prepared to defend Iraq.”
Hypeman is known for keeping all the other Iraqi soldiers motivated and always expressing enthusiasm to learn from the U.S. and Australian instructors.
“Every day we train with them on this new system their motivation and skill increases,” Army Sgt. Trevor Cacciatore said.
The Iraqis they are training are not just mortarmen, but also forward observers and fire direction center personnel that participated in the training in order to build an operational understanding of these new weapon systems on the battlefield.
“Even the officers take part in the training,” Army Spc. Brandyn Brownfield said. “Everyone who is there participates and takes the time to learn the system.”
The final session, scheduled for October, will allow the Iraqi mortar teams to refine their SOPs and finally put their skills to the test by firing live rounds in a Mortar Training and Evaluation Program exercise.
This exercise will allow them to certify on the M120 mortar system and show that they are qualified to conduct real-life fire missions against ISIS and more effectively secure their nation against attack.