Lt. Gen. Abdel Aziz al-Mufti, center, the Iraqi army’s 4th Division commander, and Col. Mark Heffner, U.S. Army commander of the division Military Transition Team, greet a Tikrit-area sheik during a recent meeting.

Lt. Gen. Abdel Aziz al-Mufti, center, the Iraqi army’s 4th Division commander, and Col. Mark Heffner, U.S. Army commander of the division Military Transition Team, greet a Tikrit-area sheik during a recent meeting. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of an occasional series on building a new Iraqi army.)

TIKRIT, Iraq — Fledgling Iraqi army divisions are learning about new weapons in the battle to secure their country: staff departments, spreadsheets and word processing.

These may not carry the same immediate gratification as arming a unit with rifles and advanced weaponry, but U.S. officials say organization at the division level is crucial for Iraqis to eventually secure their country without coalition help.

To accomplish this task, the U.S. Army is sending Military Transition Teams, or MiTTs, to show Iraqi divisions the way the American system divides administrative labor and coordinates with lower levels.

The 4th Iraqi Division MiTT, composed of 12 U.S. officers and enlisted soldiers, has helped streamline the 4th Iraqi Division into separate sections that focus on administrating areas such as personnel, intelligence, logistics and communications.

It’s a total departure from the days when Saddam Hussein’s orders were followed without regard to supplies or staff input, said the division chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Hazim Al-Aizawe.

“In the old system, everything was based on fear,” he said. “Now, in the American system of building an army, you have responsibilities divided. If the commander says ‘Take the hill,’ the staff studies it and gives recommendations. You can even say it might not be a good idea.”

While organizing its efforts, the division deals with unreliable electricity, no Internet connection and other technological barriers. Iraqis deal with these barriers in stride, soldiers say, since they have traditionally logged all of their plans and logistics with pens and paper.

Nevertheless, the MiTT is emphasizing the use of laptop computers as a more efficient way of information management.

Some section heads, like personnel chief Col. Ahmad Emad, have actively embraced computers and say they want significantly more training help from the Americans for their staff. Soldiers say the G-1 section (administration and personnel) is probably the most advanced in the division, despite using only 12 staff members to oversee more than 23,000 soldiers.

Other officers are resisting technology, but MiTT team members hope that will fade once they see the benefits.

“When the National Guard first started using computers, a lot of the old guys didn’t like that either,” said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Ciampolillo, 43, of Schenectady, N.Y.

Ciampolillo and other team members emphasize that the Iraqi army divisions are new creations. “It’s getting there” and “it’s come a long way” are the most common response that soldiers give to several questions about the division’s effectiveness.

Sections such as logistics require Iraqis to perform contracting tasks very differently than in the old regime, which never had a competitive bidding system.

The division has processed several contracts, only to have the needed projects caught in limbo at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. For immediate needs, the MiTT has used its funds to get the division rolling. That has made adviser Maj. Arthur Zegers, 41, of Malta, N.Y., a very popular man among Iraqis looking to capitalize on U.S.-funded contracts.

“Everyone hands me a business card,” Zegers said. “They all want a piece of the pie.”

If the division can work out its logistical hurdles, it should be able to operate without American guidance in the near future, said MiTT commander Col. Mark Heffner, 53, of Averill Park, N.Y.

“Probably within the six- to 12-month time frame, this division will be capable of managing its battle space and providing security in its area of operations,” Heffner said.

The wild card, Heffner said, is whether the division’s command will plan and manage its resources adequately.

“If that piece isn’t in place, it’s going to extend that time frame,” Heffner said.

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