View Full Version : Marines working to build effective force

10-29-06, 04:48 PM
Marines working to build effective force

It's a slow road and a difficult task: standing up an army, basically from scratch, especially when the soldiers were under the rule of one dictator for so long.

For the 1st Iraqi Army Division, the future heavily relies on U.S. Marine Military Transition Teams who live and work side-by-side with them, setting a positive and professional example.

Since early 2005, the transition teams have worked to rebuild the Iraqi Security Forces from the ground up as a modern, effective fighting force. Sourced mostly by the Army and Marine Corps, 11 to 15-person teams train stateside and in theater before embedding with their Iraqi counterparts.

Their mission is to advise, coach, teach, and mentor the IA, assisting them to assume full responsibility for the security of their country. MiTTs, as they're known, provide a mix of combat and combat support specialties to include operations, intelligence, logistics, communications, engineering, and security-the things an army must do to stand alone.

Standing up the new army is a slow process, "but in the long run, it is the exit plan for the American forces to pull out as they become more and more capable to assume the responsibilities," said Col. Juan Ayala, senior adviser to the 1st IA Division's commanding general.

"You have to remember that this army was disbanded, and it's only been around for about 18 months," said Ayala. "It takes a while for it to stand on its feet, and that's why the advisers are here."

As these Marine advisers train the new army, they expect challenges. According to Ayala, one difficulty concerns the Iraqi Army's logistics.

"They don't have a national industrial base, which means they don't have anything to draw from," said Ayala. "Their logistics are outsourced."

Most of Ayala's Marines express the language barrier as their greatest challenge. Interpreters embed with the teams to alleviate much of the issue, and the Marines themselves also learn to adapt.

"I've managed to pick up a few sayings, and I can understand a lot of hand gestures," said Sgt. Michael Herrera, intelligence adviser for the 1st IA Division MiTT. "That's how we communicate a lot of the time."

"We came in with an understanding that we're not the same-we're not dealing with Marines. We have to overcome first the language barrier, then the cultural differences. It takes a lot of patience and human understanding," said Capt. Frank Sablan, headquarters service and support adviser for the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st IA Division MiTT.

Patience is a key part of a MiTT's mission. From daily duty hours to prioritizing deadlines, Iraqi culture is different from American culture-especially Marine culture. In addition, some of the soldiers they work with are new to the military, and even those who served in the former Iraqi army are new to the tactics and procedures the MiTTs introduce to them. The Marines must adjust their expectations when training this new, foreign army.

"Being a Marine, we do things expeditiously," said Sablan. "However, working with the Iraqi Army, you have to be patient, as in they're not up to par with our standards of doing things."

The goal is neither to make the Iraqi soldiers into U.S. Marines, nor to make them perform to Marine Corp standards. The goal is to help them find solutions that will work in their own army.

"We're very careful to say 'this is how we do it in our military.' We try to be an example of what a professional military can accomplish. Most of the time they will take our example or they will tweak our example and do what we call the 'Iraqi solution,'" Ayala said.

The "Iraqi solution" is progress, slow but sure. According to Ayala, progress is evident by the fact that the Iraqi Army has assumed control of battle space which, until January 2006, was under the control of American forces.

The 1st IA Division commander currently controls two brigades, and Ayala added that the division also has a bomb disposal company, engineer company, and is in the process of forming a boat company to patrol the Euphrates River.

"When we got here, the staff was very disjointed. They did not hold a regular staff meeting as an American division would. Now they are very good at planning for the future," said Ayala.

"There have been a lot of advances as far as leadership and a lot of advances as far as operations," he added.

Sablan identifies progress with the IA in another way.

"Progress is actually seen through the locals," Sablan said. "When we first got here, locals were hesitant to talk to the Iraqi Army. However, as we engaged more they've gotten more confident in the army, and they started talking more with the officers and soldiers out there. Gaining that trust and confidence from the Iraqi people is a great sign of progress."

In the month and a half he has been a forward observer with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st IA Division MiTT, Lance Cpl. John Rutledge has noticed progress in the IA's patrolling, procedures, and organization.

"It's all coming together," Rutledge said. "They're having problems understanding how a military is supposed to run, but they're slowly learning by our example."

"For the most part they look at the Marines as their big brother. They see how we run things and want to do what we do, have what we have, and they see our gear and our weapons and they want to be just like us. Everything we do and everything that is done is emulated by them," Rutledge added.

While the IA strives to function more like its American mentors, according to Capt. Ryan Welken, intelligence adviser to the 1st IA Division, there is something the Iraqi Army already accomplishes better than their American counterparts-gathering human intelligence.

"They're always going to be better than anything we could ever hope to be," Welken said. "Their ability to go out into the community, communicate, and just get on a one-to-one level with these people is something that we'll never be able to attain. So with that, their ability to collect human intelligence is far beyond anything that we could ever hope for, and that's probably their best thing that I've seen."

Seeing the IA's progress is satisfying to the MiTTs, for each step the IA takes forward is one step closer to American troops accomplishing their mission in Iraq and going home. However, the Marines note personal satisfaction in their work with the mission, too.

"Being here on a MiTT is an experience that not every Marine gets," said Cpl. Austin Keelty, who mans the 1st IA Division MiTT Combat Operations Center. He explains that he gets to live with the Iraqis, learn their language, go outside the wire, and travel all over-from Ramadi to Baghdad. "It's very rewarding, and I'm glad I'm here. It's part of history."

Sgt. Matthew Brame added that he has gained social skills and patience through his work with the Iraqis, as well as "a lot of personal experiences for down the road." Brame works in the G4 section with logistics and supply for the 1st IA Division MiTT.

"I'd definitely recommend this to all Marines," Welken said. "In my mind, the future of Iraq depends on the MiTTs. Being on a forward operating base is not going to win the war, if you want to call it that. You need to get out there in the community, get down there with the lower levels, and work one-on-one with the Iraqis. Because in the end state, it shouldn't involve U.S. troops, it should involve the Iraqi Army. Without developing them to the level they need to be at, we're never going to get out of here."

Personal experience and historical impact are not the only satisfying elements of the MiTT's unique mission. Ayala said he has an immense pride in his MiTTs, made of Marines, Soldiers, and Navy corpsmen, which came together in a way he didn't think was possible. They have overcome challenges in the face of a crucial mission to partner with their Iraqi counterparts to mentor, train, advise, and coach. In the meantime, they have grown as their own team.

"I've been in the Marine Corps for 27 years, and I haven't gotten closer to a group of guys like I have here," Ayala said. "We're together 24 hours a day, and we have tremendous amount of challenge with our Iraqis just to 'push the ball forward.' But every one of us, including me, has really learned a lot, we've grown a lot together, and we've learned about the Iraqi Army. There's probably nobody around-except other advisers-that know as much about the Iraqi Army."

"I tell you from the bottom of my heart that I'm really going to miss this team," Ayala said. "It's been a tremendous experience."

Source: Multi-National Force-Iraq