CAMP AL ASAD, Iraq -- Iraqi soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division received 24 High Mobility, Multi-wheeled Vehicles (Humvees) March 20, 2006, after graduating from a three-week Humvee licensing and preventive maintenance course.
More than 20 enlisted soldiers were recognized in a formal graduation ceremony, where they received certificates of completion from the commanding general of the 2nd Brigade and the commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 7, Col. W. Blake Crowe.
The ceremony marked another milestone in the 2nd Brigade’s progress toward eventually relieving Coalition Forces in western Al Anbar Province of all security operations.
The new Humvees will offer added protection for the soldiers on Iraq’s dangerous roads – a step up from the small, unarmored pick-up trucks they were using.
“We get new vehicles to help us fight terrorism,” said one Iraqi Army officer following the graduation. “Now, we can help our battalions with convoys and use this vehicle to help support our battalions. There are future bad days for the insurgents.”
Following the ceremony, the Iraqi soldiers loaded up in their new Humvees and drove them to Camp Yasser, the 2nd Brigade’s camp here.
To graduate from the course, the Iraqi soldiers were required to obtain 250 driving miles in the vehicles under four different conditions – day, night, off-road and “black out” driving, which required them to drive in the darkness.
Furthermore, they were required to pass a written test, road test, and various performance tests used to maneuver the vehicles on specific courses.
“I was particularly impressed with how (well) they grasped the knowledge for the written test,” said Master Sgt. John F. Greene, RCT-7’s motor transportation chief. “They hung in very well with the long and arduous hours we put in. I had no idea they would average 90-percent grade average.”
Greene and a handful of his Marines worked “day and night” with the Iraqi soldiers to complete the training, which was taught entirely in English through the use of an interpreter, who had to translate everything into Arabic for the soldiers.
“I found that by learning a little Arabic goes a long way because they don’t have or they (interpreters) couldn’t tell me conversion words for things like “bear” when they have to bear left or right in traffic,” said Greene, of Washington, D.C. He added that overcoming the Iraqis' cultural driving habits and the language barrier presented a unique challenge when teaching the course.
Regardless of any barriers – language-related or on the roadways – the Marines were impressed with the Iraqis’ ability to quickly learn the required material and their eagerness to demonstrate their knowledge.
“They’re like little kids at the first day of school—their curiosity is unreal,” said Lance Cpl. Ian Eichel, a 23-year-old from Canton, Mich., who spent the past three weeks showing the Iraqis the mechanics of the Humvees. ”It’s amazing.”
Lance Cpl. Jonathan B. Vest, a 20-year-old Marine mechanic from Claremore, Okla., also spent countless hours under the hoods of the vehicles with the Iraqi soldiers, and says he was impressed by their eagerness to learn.
“They’re fast learners,” said Vest. “Most of them were in one of the Humvees the whole time. It shows that progress is being made and that they are improving.”
Furthermore, Vest has developed a new respect for the soldiers, and says he trusts them with his life.
“I know they would watch my back and I would watch theirs,” he said. “This country is going to be better because what we’re doing for it.”
Now that they’re licensed to operate the vehicles, the Iraqi soldiers are also qualified to teach and qualify other Iraqi soldiers to work on and drive the Humvees.
“The fact that you can train yourselves will show the whole nation that you will very soon lead this fight,” said Crowe during the ceremony.
In addition to obtaining their new wheels, the 2nd Brigade - one of two Iraqi Army brigades in western Al Anbar Province - have spent months now partnered with Coalition forces learning the various military skills they’ll need to function as a military headquarters element to the three Iraqi infantry battalions which will eventually be under their charge.
Partnered with a Military Transition Team - groups of Multi-national Forces servicemembers assigned to track and guide each Iraqi military unit’s transition to full control - the Iraqi soldiers here are learning the skills required to operate as a command staff, such as administration, logistical procurement, command and staff relations and tactical decision making.
Marines from RCT-7, who arrived in Iraq two months ago, have spent the past 50-plus days here evaluating, training and mentoring the Iraqi soldiers.
While waiting to drive one of the new Humvees off the lot following the graduation ceremony, one Iraqi soldier opens his driver’s door and has time to answer a quick question: what did you learn during your three weeks behind the wheel of a Humvee?
His response would bring a smile to Greene’s face – “safety, safety, safety.”