CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- Fifty brand-new, tan humvees are parked in the 3rd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division headquarters here – vehicles the unit received this month from Iraq’s Ministry of Defense in an effort to provide Iraqi Security Forces with more heavily armored – and reliable – vehicles.
Before the soldiers can begin conducting security operations in their new trucks, Marines of 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, are equipping the soldiers with the training and knowledge they’ll need to operate the up-armored vehicles.
The humvees add additional armored protection for the soldiers, who normally drive through Al Anbar Province’s IED-laden roads and towns in pick-up trucks, which have minimally armored machine guns mounted in the trucks’ beds.
Now, they’ll be rolling in the same vehicles as American forces, and will have the training to operate the humvees in any condition, and keep the vehicles maintained.
The Marines’ goal is to have 150 certified Iraqi soldiers qualified to drive the vehicles within the next 90 days, according to Military Transition Team officials here – one of several teams of U.S. service members responsible for mentoring and advising Iraqi Army units throughout western Al Anbar Province.
The transition team here works directly with 3rd Brigade near the Iraq-Syria border.
The Marines are currently teaching the Iraqis operation and maintenance basics in a course that will enable them to drive and maintain their new Humvees without assistance from the Americans.
“For someone who has never been behind the wheel of a Humvee, they’re doing pretty good,” said Cpl. Alfredo Solis, a motor transport operator and instructor for the course. “These guys will do well because they ask a lot of questions and that tells me that they’re eager to learn this stuff.”
The course is the first step in the process of licensing the Iraqi soldiers, the Marines say.
“This class is important because the Iraqi soldiers have never had Humvees before,” said Maj. Stanley M. Horton, 39, the logistics advisor for the brigade’s military transition team at Camp Al Qa’im, near the Iraqi-Syrian border.
U.S. forces have used the Humvee since 1981 when a prototype was built for the U.S. Army, according to the manufacturer’s website. In Iraq, the Humvee’s capabilities allow Marines to accommodate a wide range of weapons aboard a turret on the vehicle’s roof, including .50 caliber machine guns, and the MK-19 40 millimeter grenade launcher.
While most Iraqi Army brigades have already completed similar courses, 3rd Brigade is the youngest brigade in the country, and one of the last to receive the training, said Horton, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Iraqis are responsible for completing 32 hours of instruction in order to pass the class. The course is broken down into an equal part of classroom instruction and hands-on application to put the uniformed Iraqis under the hood of the Humvees to become familiar with the vehicle’s working parts.
“It’s important that the Iraqis know what everything is on the Humvee and understand how everything works because these vehicles are theirs and they will need to upkeep them on their own,” said Solis, a native of Santa Ana, Calif.
While several of the soldiers have experience as drivers and know basic vehicle maintenance, such as changing fluids and filters, the Marines stress the hands-on portion of the class since Humvees are new to the Iraqi military, according to Horton.
Moreover, the soldiers must demonstrate that they can both fix a Humvee, and operate it safely, before graduating the course.
“If they can’t back up a Humvee with a trailer for 100 feet, I’ll make them do it over and over again until I see they can do it on their own,” said Solis. “They need to be able to do everything without their buddies giving them the answer.”
One soldier, a 26-year-old Jundi from Baghdad, has shown considerable progress in the course and says he is looking forward to driving the same armored vehicles that the Marines drive.
The soldier, who chose to remain anonymous, says the Humvees provide better protection from improvised explosive devices - arguably the number one threat against Iraqi and Coalition forces in Al Anbar Province.
By and large, the Humvees seem to have bolstered the Iraqi soldiers’ confidence in the amount of protection they’ll have now when traveling Iraq’s roads. They say the Humvees are a huge step up from their current fleet of pick-ups.
“The vehicle feels good. It is comfortable to drive and the steering is better than our vehicles now,” said another Iraqi soldier, through a translator.
“You can trust this vehicle,” said another soldier, who added that he has more than 10 years of experience as a truck driver.
The vehicles can be used for a variety of tasks, from providing security for convoys, to conducting mounted patrols through towns and villages.
The Iraqi students are eager to complete the training in order to begin conducting future operations in their new vehicles, according to Staff Sgt. Lynn D. Brown, the motor transport operations chief with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
“They want to get outside with the humvees and get hands-on training,” said Brown, a native of Detroit, Mich.
After the Iraqi soldiers complete the course here, they will move to the next evolution of training by attending a more concentrated course at a larger Marine base at Al Asad, said Horton.
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