Training beyond cultural barriers in Iraq
May 30, 2007
FORWARD OPERATING BASE GABE, Iraq — When the enemy fire erupted, Iraqi soldiers and police were filling sandbags next to a concrete outpost on this U.S. camp a few miles from Baqouba, in Iraq’s Diyala province.
Voices in Arabic rose in alarm. A mortar crew rushed into position and lobbed a few rounds. Machine-gun fire erupted from two fortified positions on the roof. The threat was neutralized, the troops went back to work.
The enemy struck again. This time, an American soldier on top of the building was hit; sharp cries rang out. A heavy firefight ensued, with machine guns, small arms and mortars pounding a steady rhythm.
The fight Monday wasn’t real, but the insurgent threat these Iraqi and U.S. forces face just a few hundred meters outside the wire is deadly and ever-present. The mock gunbattle was the culminating exercise for the most recent class of 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division’s Greywolf Academy, a nine-day course designed to polish the leadership and combat skills of U.S. and Iraqi forces.
U.S. commanders hope that by embedding U.S. soldiers in the course, they and their Iraqi partners will learn how to work together more effectively and adapt to each other both culturally and professionally, said Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Felt, who started the course back in February.
“We’re trying to bond them together as a team,” said Felt, the brigade’s top enlisted soldier. “It’s helpful because it exposes the American soldier to the Iraqi way of doing things, and it exposes the Iraqis to the way we do things. They live, eat, sleep and work together. It’s pretty hooah.”
The class that graduated Monday included seven U.S. soldiers and about 20 Iraqis from local army and police units. U.S. troops generally make up about one-third of each class. The school has graduated approximately 230 students since it opened in February, said Felt, a 50-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pa.
Felt said he envisioned the school as a continuation of the Warrior Leaders Course that U.S. enlisted soldiers undergo before becoming noncommissioned officers. A primary goal is to instill the Iraqis with the same kind of ethics and values that young U.S. sergeants are expected to learn.
“We’re not trying to change their culture; we’re not trying to make them American soldiers,” said Felt. “The idea is to work on those parts of the character that we in the American Army have found is so important to develop in our leaders.”
Every Iraqi who goes through the course returns to work within the 3rd Brigade’s area of operations, where it’s hoped they will teach their subordinates what they’ve been taught, Felt said.
Sgt. 1st Class Scott Captain, who has run the school since it opened in February, said it includes training in marksmanship, traffic control procedures, the proper use and escalation of force, plus leadership duties and responsibilities.
“We’re trying to get everyone on the same page,” said Captain, 48, of Mission Viejo, Calif.
But from a U.S. standpoint, he said, “I think cultural awareness is the real moneymaker.”
The quality of the Iraqi students varies widely. “There’s a handful you wish were in our army. They’re good. Others are just here,” Captain said. “About 80 percent are tracking. They’re among the better [Iraqi army soldiers] the Iraqis produce.”
Sgt. Rodney Law, who graduated the course Monday, said he’d already had some interaction with his Iraqi counterparts, but the course underscored to him that even though Iraqis and Americans come from different cultures, they still share a lot in common.
“It just reinforces the idea that their culture is a lot closer to ours than a lot of people think,” said Law, 25, a communications specialist from Madison, S.D.
Sgt. 1st Class Rodney Rivera, another instructor who also handles the school’s logistics, said he hopes the school will teach Iraqi army and police to cooperate more, something that rarely happens in practice.
“They’re both willing to work with the American forces, but sometimes, they’re reluctant to work together,” said Rivera, 38, from Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. “But it’s important that they learn to work together because one day we’re going to leave, and when we leave, all they’re going to have is themselves.”