Sgt. 1st Class Angela McKinzie
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq — Sweat pours off the bodies of Iraqi soldiers as they low crawl their way through uneven terrain and negotiate various obstacles under the unforgiving heat of the Iraqi sun in hopes that they will make it through the day. But this day is day zero, a day that doesn’t even count.
Iraqi soldiers from 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division participated in the first-ever advanced infantry course, dubbed the Commando Course, at the Iraqi Army Compound in Mahmudiyah, Iraq.
The course, planned and designed by noncommissioned officers of 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., was developed to give the IA soldiers advanced infantry training skills.
“We (the NCO’s and I) thought it would be a great idea to offer something a little more advanced to the (Iraqi troops),” said Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Grinston, 2-15 command sergeant major and a native of Jasper, Ala. “So we developed the Commando Course, which offered advanced training in areas such as marksmanship, physical fitness, map reading, land navigation and troop-leading procedures.”
But before the course could start, the NCOs had to resource all the materials and build the obstacles from start to finish.
“We built an obstacle a day,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Lindsey, Commando Course head instructor and a native of Chattanooga, Tenn. “The field that the obstacles are located in was once covered in weeds that were waist high. We had the engineers come out and level the field so we could use the area as the obstacle course location.”
The obstacle course consists of 10 stations.
NCOs also built a shoot house and found an area to conduct map reading, land navigation and tactical operations before the course started.
The 25-day course began July 8 after day zero, a day that gauges who will actually be admitted into the course.
“There were 100 soldiers who originally started, but we lost 56 soldiers on day zero,” Grinston explained. “This is not an easy course, but the students really like it and are excited to be here.”
The course, beginning with physical fitness at the break of dawn each day, consists of three phases: weapons, troop-leading procedures and land navigation; advanced combat lifesaving; and air assault operations.
“It is similar to the U.S. Army Ranger Course,” Grinston said of the Commando Course. “Here the Iraqi junior enlisted soldiers will learn how to conduct missions on their own without the help of any officers.”
One IA soldier, Sgt. Mohammed Kazim, who serves as a squad leader with 4th Battalion, 4-6 IA, is enrolled in the Commando Course and speaks about his experience in the class.
“Here I have learned how to be mentally and physically tough,” he said. “Although the class is fun, it is challenging – especially the obstacle course.”
He also spoke of what it was like to go through the course with two of his own soldiers.
“They will graduate with more experience than they had before – a lot more experience than most IA soldiers have,” Kazim said. “I am proud of them.”
The course taught the soldiers more than skills - it taught discipline.
“Make sure you line your rucksacks up and make sure everything looks alike,” Staff Sgt. Vinson Kelley said to the soldiers before they were dismissed from formation.
Kelley is a Commando Course instructor.
And that discipline was shown as Iraqi Pvt. Akeel Hamid Abdalrthea, with a perfect haircut and a shaven face, stood at parade rest (a military courtesy) as a senior NCO spoke to him.
“I have learned so much in the course and how important it is to be disciplined and experienced,” Adbalrthea said. “But my favorite part if the class was learning marksmanship, especially the different shooting positions.”
As part of training, soldiers participated in a live-fire exercise.
They also developed their own sand tables, a table used to show how a mission will be conducted, before going on mock missions.
“They write and carry out an entire operational order by themselves,” Grinston said. “And you can tell they are learning because in their sand tables they used cigarette butts to mark spots where packs of dogs hang out.”
Marking the dogs’ location was important because their barking would give away the soldiers’ position.
“Marking the dogs shows attention to detail,” Grinston said. “I would have never thought of that.”
One aspect of the course that was a challenge for the soldiers was map reading because they had to learn American numerals. But with the help of interpreters, the soldiers learned how to find an eight-digit grid coordinate and use plotted grid coordinates to find land navigation points.
“At first they did not even know how to read a map,” Lindsey said. “Now they know how to find points.”
Lindsey discussed what it is like to instruct the IAs.
“As long as they are here I am happy to help them learn,” he said. “I hope these courses will help build confidence within the junior ranks of the Iraqi Army.”
One U.S. Soldier said the Commando Course compares well to similar stateside training.
“This course is just as challenging, if not more challenging, than U.S. Army courses that I have been through,” said Sgt. Jason Carvel, a 2nd BCT personal security detachment squad leader, as he gasped for breath after completing the obstacle course. “The Iraqi soldiers are dealing with hotter temperatures and rougher terrain than traditional U.S. military students deal with. This is not an easy course, but it is the right kind of course.”
Carvel is a native of DeKalb Junction, N.Y.
When the students graduate they will receive a tab, similar to that of the U.S. Army Ranger tab, which says Commando Course in Arabic and English, a certificate of completion and a 2nd BCT coin. The tab has been approved by the 4-6 IA commander to be worn on the IA uniform sleeve. The top student of the course will receive a special gift from the 4-6 IA commander.
The students are scheduled to graduate August 2 at the IAC.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Sgt. 1st Class Angela McKinzie