Monday, August 06, 2007

Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO

MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq — As violence in Iraq drops, Soldiers in country and people around the world might wonder why.
Part of the reason might be the increasing abilities of the fledgling Iraqi army – aided in no small part by training like that of the Commando Course developed by the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y.
The battalion has been paired with troops of the 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, for about a year now, based out of the town of Mahmudiyah, Iraq. The town – largely Shia Muslim and once notorious for terrorism – is now remarkably peaceful.
The Soldiers of 2-15 not only integrated themselves with 4/6 IA troops, they made a serious job of training, as Soldiers do on stateside posts. Iraqi soldiers conduct
physical training in the mornings before going on patrols and raids later on. And when the manual labor of building obstacle courses for the intensive Commando Course was needed, the American Soldiers worked side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts.
The course is difficult – about 75 percent of the 100 troops that began it ‘washed out,’ most on the first day, due to the obstacle course.
It’s comparable with the 10th Mountain Division’s pre-Ranger course; 24 days of intense training such as advanced training in areas like marksmanship, physical fitness, map reading, land navigation and troop-leading procedures, said Command Sgt. Maj. Tony Grinston, 2-15 command sergeant major and a native of Jasper, Ala. There are three phases - weapons, troop-leading procedures and land navigation; advanced combat lifesaving; and air assault operations.
On July 30, the students ran back and forth across the baking tarmac of a helipad at Camp Striker, taking turns sling-loading huge crates of supplies under the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. In between loading practice, they ran, eyes squinted, through the powerful wash of the rotor blades to practice air assaults. As the helicopter touched down, they jumped out one after another, crouched low and M-16s at the ready.
The troops graduated in a formal ceremony Aug. 2 with both Iraqi and U.S. dignitaries present to honor the graduates.
Sgt 1st Class John Lindsay, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., and the commando course instructor, said that as the course progressed, the troops were certified as combat
medics and qualified to do static-load training as well as close-quarters marksmanship and operations orders.
“These guys are some of the best,” Lindsay said. “The first day, they didn’t seem like they wanted to be here at all. But as they progressed, they said “hey, I’m going to do this,” and I think they’re going to take this to the next level.”
The course was designed to be a more advanced form of training.
“It culminated in a real air assault mission that was coordinated by (2-15),” said Grinston. “It was a very good course, very detailed. There were three written exams they had to pass and a physical fitness test.”
The troops became disciplined, leaders said.
“They grew exponentially,” Grinston said. “We made the officers use their noncommissioned officers; they couldn’t just give orders to the soldiers, the sergeants had to utilize their abilities to lead, and they do a great job. It really showed when they completed the air assault mission and they were clearing rooms and taking detainees.”
The mission naturally included many of the orders and techniques the students learned – with a possibly deadly price to pay for mistakes. The soldiers performed superbly, Grinston said.
The graduation ceremony for the course was held at the Iraqi Army Compound in Mahmudiyah. Multi-National Corps – Iraq Command Sergeant Major Neil Ciotola, was on hand to present the graduates the ‘Commando Tab’ to be worn on the shoulder sleeve of their combat uniforms.
“We all know it takes devoted Iraqis to ensure Iraq’s success - Iraqis devoted to one country, one army, one mission, “said Ciotola. “Two weeks ago I visited this unit and watched them train. I saw soldiers that have grown with each passing month.“
The Soldiers who completed the course will move to the “Commando Company” in the 4th Battalion, 4/6 IA, who impressed seasoned U.S. combat troops in early July near the village of Sadr al-Yusufiyah.
“They’re the best-trained company in the brigade,” said 1st Lt. Michael Keasler, a native of Augusta, Ga., and the executive officer for Company B, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, based out of Forward Operating Base Warrior Keep, near Sadr al-Yusufiyah. “They were clearing houses and routes, exploiting caches and were absolutely pivotal in finding information.
“They’re the best Iraqi troops I’ve ever worked with, the most energetic and motivated, and their initiative on the objectives was outstanding. I’d fight with them anywhere.”

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