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AN NUMANIYAH, Iraq ? The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) Military Transition Team poses for a group photo. On humvees: Cpl. John Perkins, artillery support coordinator; Sgt. Charles Evanson, motor transportation mechanic; 1st Lt. Alden Hingle, intelligence officer; and Sgt. George Carter, communications chief. Standing: Gunnery Sgt. Karl Garrett, communications repairman; Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarrett Garland, corpsman; Capt. Dan Colvin, aircraft maintenance officer; Maj. Keith Chirico, an AV-8B Harrier pilot; Sgt. Jacob Laskowski, intelligence chief; Staff Sgt. Joaquin Alvarado, artillery support coordinator; and 1st Lt. Mike Berger, combat engineer officer.

Photo by courtesy photo

From wingers to Iraqi soldier trainers, Marines ensure Iraqis are combat-ready

12 Aug 2005 | - 2nd MAW (Fwd) Military Transition Team

On June 9, 2005, the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing sent an 11-man Military Transition Team (MiTT), to An Numaniyah, Iraq, a training base in southeastern Iraq.  The team’s mission is to stand up the 2nd Brigade of the 7th Iraqi Army Division and serve as advisory staff in the training of the 1st Battalion.

The MiTT concept is modeled after the combined arms platoons that were employed in Vietnam from 1967 to 1974.  Using this model, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq formed three specialized teams to embed with the New Iraqi Army brigade.  The teams bring infantry, artillery, intelligence, logistics, and communications expertise as a foundation in building the brigade.

The wing’s team is led by Maj. Keith “Cheerio” Chirico, an AV-8B Harrier pilot.  “I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to serve as team leader with some of the finest Marines I have ever known,” he said.  “They have indeed carried the lion’s share of the responsibility and deserve all the credit.”

Chirico said his Marines’ professionalism, confidence and capability to train Iraqis during this challenging mission are unmatched.  “The day-in, day-out dedication required of the Marines to successfully carry-out this demanding endeavor, has exceeded my wildest expectations,” he said.  “Their ability to mentor and integrate into this culturally diverse environment has had a significant impact on the battalion’s core skill progress.”

Assisting Chirico are Capt. Dan Colvin, aircraft maintenance officer; 1st Lt. Alden Hingle, intelligence officer; 1st Lt. Mike Berger, combat engineer officer; Gunnery Sgt. Karl Garrett, communications repairman; Staff Sgt. Joaquin Alvarado, artillery support coordinator; Sgt. George Carter, communications chief; Petty Officer 2nd Class Jarrett Garland, corpsman; Sgt. Jacob Laskowski, intelligence chief; Sgt. Charles Evanson, motor transportation mechanic; and Cpl. John Perkins, artillery support coordinator.

The team was assembled in late May and after a short combat arms and convoy operations refresher deployed here, where they serve alongside two other transition teams.  One team is from Regimental Combat Team-2 and the other one is a Border Fort Transition Team, which is a composite team formed in Camp Lejeune, N.C., and specifically trained for the BTT mission.

The Marines of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Fwd) hit the ground running.  Immediately upon arriving on June 11 they began establishing force security policies and procedures while simultaneously developing a plan to overcome the lack of infrastructure available for the incoming Iraqi cadre.

The day after they arrived, the team received over 300 soldiers, noncommissioned officers and senior leadership, the first of over 1,000 new Iraqi Army recruits that would arrive over the coming days.  Dividing the team’s assets into administrative and logistical cells, the Marines organized the brigade and prepared the recruits for what was to be a three-week course designed to provide refresher training to the noncommissioned officers, most of which had vast previous experience in the Iraqi Army during Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Within days, the number of new soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers had risen to over 1,200.  While managing the newly formed army through the use of interpreters assigned to the brigade, the 2nd MAW (Fwd) and RCT-2 MiTTs began assembling the brigade staff sections, drafting a training plan and working out logistical challenges of supporting a forward deployed unit of that size.  The team developed a training schedule based on the time available to train the unit and a few very clear objectives. 

Following an intense three-week “train the trainer” course that was completed July 4, the wing’s MiTT began in-processing the first group of recent enlistees, who would comprise the majority of the 1st Battalion.  A comprehensive training plan was developed to get the battalion trained in concert with the unit’s training objectives.  The ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach was used due to the fact that many of the new soldiers, despite their years of experience, were lacking in most of the basic military skills.   The 2nd MAW (Fwd) MiTT’s approach was built on three fundamental pillars: discipline, marksmanship, and basic infantry skills.

On July 8, the 1st Battalion began its eight-week training schedule, which started out with individual responsibilities and quickly worked up to platoon level operations. 

“It is great feeling to have a direct impact on the outcome of the war,” said Evanson.  “When this army goes out and begins to defend their nation’s freedom successfully it will be a great day for the Iraqi people and the American forces alike.  It gives me a great sense of pride knowing that I’m helping build an army that will keep a nation free and send our brothers and sisters in arms home to their loved ones.”

The mission of the MiTT is extremely challenging.  The conditions the team met when they arrived were well short of optimal.  The situation on the ground required the Marines to take an active role in resolving key issues such as coordinating the repair of tents that were designated as billeting areas, ensuring ample food for the soldiers, setting up a communication network, and coordinating an acceptable logistics support capability.

The tents, erected over a year ago, were wind beaten, torn and filthy.  Many of them were without air conditioning, causing the internal temperatures to be well over 100 degrees.  Scorpions, spiders and snakes were present in many of the tents due to the poor state of cleanliness.  The camp’s two generators were barely maintaining the load and broke down daily.  Communications were difficult as well.

The food, prepared in a centralized kitchen and served in containers, was most often under- or overcooked, in insufficient quantity, and served in less than ideal conditions.

One of the biggest challenges was overcoming the language barrier amidst a myriad of tasks that needed to be accomplished.  Identifying the responsible activities to get things fixed and then working through the cultural and language differences demanded patience and persistence.  The most visible cultural difference encountered by the MiTT was that of time and sense of urgency.  When so many concerns existed and so little time was available prior to the start of the training evolution, sense of urgency was paramount, however, in Iraqi culture time does not hold the same importance as it does in America.

Through the persistent efforts the Marines established a rapport with the Iraqi leadership cells across the base, and with the help of II Marine Expeditionary Force and the logistical support that was in place, they were able, slowly, to improve the conditions of “tent city.”

“These are the first steps to stabilizing a free nation so our brothers in arms can return to their loved ones,” said Laskowski.  “There are still several challenges ahead in our missions but I’m confident we will have the battalion ready to fight beside Marines, earning their freedom by overcoming each obstacle or enemy they face.”

The Marines’ day starts at approximately 5 a.m. and ends somewhere around 11 p.m.  Most mornings start with battalion physical training, which is conducted in boots and utilities.  The Marines, despite the language gap, are usually found at the front of their units, leading the morning routine.  After physical training the units march to morning chow, after which the day’s classes begin.

“What we’re doing here will have effects far in the future and it’s hard to see the fruits of our labor now,” said Carter.  “We’re building an army that will secure a free and independent Iraq in a not so far future.”

Classes are held buildings that were looted and stripped after the fall of Saddam’s regime.  Although in poor condition they offer protection from the heat, which hovers around 120 degrees and the desert sun.  The training consists of both class time and practical application and has proven to be effective.  Instructors who are part of the Iraqi Infantry Training Battalion (ITB) provide the primary instruction and discipline.  Each battalion consists of approximately 22 ITB instructors, who are the equivalent of an Iraqi drill instructor.  The Marines provide the primary direction to the battalion.

The team’s responsibilities are as such:  Chirico, MiTT team leader, has oversight over the battalion’s training schedule and is the primary advisor to the Iraqi battalion commander.

Colvin advises the executive officer, S-4 officer, Headquarters and Service Company commander, and mentors the battalion’s company commanders.  “I’m proud to be serving on this mission,” he said.  “While Marines here and back at home are doing their parts in the war against terror, this is a chance to be directly involved with a vital aspect of the exit strategy of the U.S.  Our success here is a big part of our ticket out.”

Hingle advises the 1st and 2nd Company commanders and platoon commanders, as well as serves as the assistant operations officer, and advisor to the S-2 officer.  “I’m extremely excited about having the opportunity to represent the Marine Corps in the forming of this New Iraqi Army,” said Hingle.  “So far it’s been very satisfying being able to contribute something positive with such an important end result.  We couldn’t have asked for a stronger team from the wing side and we will continue to attack the great challenges we’ve seen to get these boys ready for Al Anbar.”

Berger is responsible for all combat engineer related functions and is the advisor to the battalion adjutant, while also serving as the primary advisor to the 3rd and 4th Company commanders and platoon commanders.  “It is definitely a challenging mission,” he said.  “Training any unit from the ground up is challenging enough, but add in a cultural barrier and it magnifies this mission ten-fold, if not more.  I am extremely confident in our team’s ability to accomplish this mission and thus far, everyone has been surpassing expectations.”

Garrett is the advisor to the battalion sergeant major, serves as the company gunnery sergeant, and as the logistics chief.  “When I found out about this mission, I had no idea what would be expected of me; except 100 percent,” said Garrett.  “I have come to realize the enormity of our task and hope that we are teaching all that is essential for these soldiers to succeed as saviors to their country.  I find myself switching from disciplinarian to teacher and hope that I have made even a small impact.”

Alvarado is the MiTT staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, operations chief, and assists with functions related to the company gunnery sergeant and oversight of the Infantry Training Battalion staff.  “This is my second tour in An Numaniyah as a military advisor, and I believe strongly that our job here will help in keeping terror out of our shores,” said Alvarado.  “The Iraqi Army must be strong enough to withstand a civil or insurgent war so that their attention remains here in the Middle East and not in our country.  We are making history here.  There are not too many military personnel who can say they assisted in training an army for a foreign nation.”

Garland has taken on the responsibilities as the battalion corpsman after having been the primary force behind the establishment of the Brigade Aid Station and author of the brigade’s sick call procedures.  “We can all say ‘it was rewarding,’ ‘this was yet another challenge,’ or even use words like ‘honor,’ ‘courage’ or ‘commitment.’  I can only quote one of my favorite movies because what shall take place here will happen when we are long gone,” said Garland.  “This may only really take account in the history books for our children and the many men, women and children left here … ‘what we do in life echoes in eternity.’”

Carter, Evanson, Laskowski, and Perkins serve as advisors to the 16 platoon sergeants and are primarily responsible for everything the platoons do or fail to do.  These Marines are the backbone of the team.

Force protection is very near and dear to the Marines here.  Upon arriving, they established a quick reaction force procedure to be enacted in the case of a security breach.  Each Marine stays vigilant of their surroundings, while balancing the need to develop a trusting relationship with their Iraqi counterparts.

The Marines conduct periodic convoys to a Ukranian controlled base in Ad Diwaniyah, which is approximately an hour and a half south of their location.  They also procure many items from local sources on and around An Numaniyah.
“The Marines assigned to this MiTT have performed superbly,” said Colvin.  “It is an honor to be part of such a hard-working, determined and professional group of ‘Devil Dogs’ such as those sent here to represent 2nd MAW.”

AFTER THE TRAINING

The newly formed Iraqi Security Force will play a vital role in securing polling sites and upholding security during the National Referendum in October 2005 and ultimately, for the national election, which will be held in December 2005.

“The Iraqis understand it is their reponsibility for keeping the peace and enforcing the laws of Iraq,” said Chirico.  “I have a new found respect for these volunteer soldiers, as they have demonstrated discipline and courage in their training and preparation to face a determined insurgency.  I am confident that this battalion will be able to fight, hold their own and make a difference in forging security and peace in a new Iraq.”

The 2nd Brigade will serve alongside the II Marine Expeditionary Force in operations against Anti-Iraqi Forces.   “Helping to bring democracy to this country will positively affect the future of our children and grandchildren,” said Colvin.  “Seeing the optimistic faces of many of the young soldiers in training, as well as the faces of the young children along the roads outside the wire gives me a great feeling of job satisfaction.  I am hopeful and optimistic that our efforts to prepare the New Iraqi Army to counteract the insurgency and bring about stability will prevent my children from having to deploy here to finish the job in future years.”


- For more information about the Marines reported on in this story, please contact Capt. Rob James by e-mail at jamesrl@acemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil -
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