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Road to progress: California-based Marines train Iraqi soldiers in urban military tactics

22 Apr 2006 | Cpl. Graham A. Paulsgrove

fter four days of patrolling the vast deserts of southern Al Anbar Province, the revolving patrols of Marines return to their base here for a day or two of rest before going back “outside the wire.”That is, all except for two: Cpl. Jeremy D. Quackenbush and Cpl. Travis L. Cooter.The two Marines, both assigned to 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, are charged with more than just patrolling Iraq’s dangerous roads and searching for insurgents in towns and cities. The Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based battalion provides security in this remote city surrounded by desert. They also are charged with assisting Iraqi Security Forces in eventually relieving Coalition Forces in Al Anbar Province. While other Marines use their time off to clean weapons, watch movies on DVDs, and converse about their lives back in the States, these two Marines are teaching critical counterinsurgency skills to about a dozen Iraqi soldiers here. From urban combat patrolling to reacting to enemy contact and improvised explosive devices, these two Marines have spent several days conducting refresher training on such tactics, techniques and procedures deemed necessary for Iraqi soldiers to learn to effectively operate in this combat environment. “[Cooter and Quackenbush] were chosen because these guys are good at what they do – they know their job and I knew they would do well with this assignment,” said Philadelphia native, 2nd Lt. James A. Brobyn, 27, the Marines’ platoon commander. “They have taught the info to enough Marines, so teaching a few Iraqis shouldn’t be hard.” The battalion took control of their area of operations, spanning from the Jordanian and Syrian borders to 120 miles east and has been working alongside Iraqi forces to maintain security and stability in the region, to include manning the checkpoints surrounding the main city in the region, Rutbah.Working through an interpreter, the two Marines explained basic patrolling formations, how to react to sniper fire and improvised explosive devices, as well as reacting to a complex ambush, according to Cooter, a 20-year-old from Denver and platoon team leader. “They were all quick learners – I was impressed,” said Cooter.After a few hours of classes, the two Marines watched the Iraqi soldiers practice what they learned at the joint Coalition-Iraqi base here. For the most part, the Iraqis learned the techniques quickly, and demonstrated they understood what they were taught, said Cooter. “The majority of [the Iraqi Soldiers] are combat vets from Hit, Haditha and Baghdad, so they are pretty good,” said Cooter. “We’re going to be out there with them, so it is nice that we are not starting from scratch.”While the practice patrols ran smoothly, it wasn’t completely free of problems. The two Marines said the Iraqis still need to work on communication techniques, but that will come with more practice. The language barrier between the Marines and the Iraqis also presented a unique challenge. “The language barrier is a large obstacle, but we have a good interpreter,” said Cooter. “It was difficult to get all the commands passed, because we only had one interpreter and a lot of guys in the formation, so a few people didn’t know what was going on.” Despite the cultural and language differences, a common bond was made between the Iraqi Soldiers and the Marines, according to both parties.“These guys are just like me — they’re doing their part to help,” said Quackenbush, a 28-year-old from Pittsburgh. “The small unit training, such as refreshing a platoon of Iraqis on basic tactics, plays into a much larger role regarding the country’s future.”By helping the Iraqis become more tactically proficient, the Marines’ efforts are helping the Iraqis progress toward operating independent of Coalition Forces’ assistance, according to Stafford, Va., native 1st Lt. Joseph R. Shusko, 25, the executive officer for the battalion’s Company A. “By making sure these soldiers are up to our standards, the training will help get the Iraqis to complete missions with just our supervision and make them the main effort.”Currently, the Iraqi Soldiers working around Rutbah rotate to a different part of the country every three weeks, but the area is slated to receive a fixed unit of Iraqi Security Forces sometime in the near future, according to Brobyn. “These guys are serious — they want to make Iraq better,” concluded Brobyn. Email Cpl. Paulsgrove at: paulsgrovega@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil