Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
Multi-National Division – Center
PATROL BASE LIONS’ DEN, Iraq — Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were months of “coalition-building” and arguments that were rapidly eclipsed by the war itself. But having a coalition of allies was critical, and one of the United States’ longest-standing allies is Great Britain.
There are four British Soldiers serving with troops of the 2nd Battlion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) out of Fort Drum, N.Y., at Patrol Base Lions’ Den, Iraq, at any given time.
They aid the “Golden Dragons” of 2-14 with the military transition team mission – called “MiTT”
Capt. James Morris, a native of Devon, England, serves as a Royal Marine and came to work with 2-14 as part of an officer exchange with U.S. troops.
Sgt. Paul Watson is a native of Manchester and a member of the Royal Guards, the well-known guards around Buckingham Palace who wear tall bearskin hats and are teased by tourists trying to get them to break their straight face.
They and two others deployed April 28, training in Kuwait and Iraq, before arriving at Lions’ Den in May to work with 2-14. They work closely with Capt. Dennis Grinde, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Madden of Miamisburg, Ohio, the MiTT commander and noncommissioned officer in charge, respectively.
“There’s really not much difference between the U.S. and British Armies,” said Morris, who served with the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd BCT in Afghanistan in 2006. “Of course, our basic vehicle couldn’t stop a frozen haddock thrown at the side – your armored Humvees are much better. But patrol tactics are not much different, you can integrate British and U.S. troops with no problem. What you call “fives and twenty-fives” we call “five-meter-and-twenty-meter searches,” but it’s not difficult to figure out. The tactics remain pretty much the same.”
“I call it ‘same (stuff), different Army,” said Watson. “Soldiers are Soldiers at the end of the day, wherever you go.”
“It’s really interesting, “Grinde said. “We’re really all one team. Like Winston Churchill said, fighting a war with an alliance is hard, but it’s impossible without one.”
The MiTT has been working on training many Iraqi soldiers, most of whom they had to re-train from the ground up because the troops had not internalized much of their previous training.
On a recent mission, much of the Iraqi company was 35 minutes late to begin the patrol.
“One of the platoon leaders, Omar, always has his guys there on time and squared away,” said Morris. “The others, not so much.”
“We’re not trying to get them up to Western standards, we’re grying to get them to Iraqi standards, so that the British and American Soldiers can go home and they can have a functional native Army. We’re not here to change their culture, we’re here to train them. In their culture, it’s very ‘insh’allah’ – God willing – being on time isn’t a big deal.”
They may not be changing the Iraqi’s culture, but there is a little cultural exchange going on between the coalition Soldiers on Lions’ Den. The British regale the 2-14 Soldiers with tales of their riot training, with full-contact company-on-company riots, with a unit of British regulars against a unit of Nepalese Gurkhas. The fighting is no-holds-barred, with live Molotov cocktails – “petrol bombs” as Morris and Watson call them – and attempted kidnappings.
The Americans enthusiastically ask about Watson’s time in the Queen’s Guard (“Does the Queen send tea out for you?” “Yes, but we can’t drink it, it would involve moving,” And “What happens if you smile?” “Twenty-eight days in jail, no questions at all.”)
There is also some good-natured ribbing about the American Revolutionary War.
“You guys should be good at counter-insurgency now,” one Soldier said, laughing. “I think we kind of beat you with insurgency warfare a few years ago.”
“That you did,” Morris said, also laughing. “although we had a good run at the beginning. But we’re on to those tricks now.”
More importantly, the Iraqi troops are improving drastically.
“In the last four weeks, they’ve started really thinking,” said Watson. “They’re asking for vehicle support, but they’re doing their own techniques and we’re falling back a little bit.”
“They need confidence,” Morris said. “We’re trying to give them that, and then start weaning them off our support. We’re stepping back and doing overwatch while they do more of the missions now.”
After the Iraqis train at Lions’ Den, they will go south to Tallil to work with an Australian unit, which helps get them to a higher level of skill, Morris said.
Until then, the Soldiers of 2-14 and their British attachments continue to teach.
“If we train them in the morning and late afternoon, they remember more,” Morris said.
Making class entertaining is also important, said Watson.
“The level of education and literacy they have means that practical, hands-on training works better,” he explained. “And when we make it a little entertaining, it works much better.”
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Spc. Chris McCann