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Marines, Iraqis celebrate opening of training center

8 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Marines in western Al Anbar Province helped open a new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps training center here May 8.  The center's opening marks the Iraqi force's strides to taking more responsibility for security in their own cities.

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment met with local sheiks and high-ranking ICDC leaders to unveil new facilities and equipment to better prepare the 503rd Battalion of the ICDC for protecting the local towns.

"This is an important day for the new Iraq," said Lt. Col. Phil C. Skuta, battalion commander. "Here, today, we show our commitment to a better Iraq."

Even as the ceremony proceeded, the ICDC demonstrated their newfound prowess.  Terrorists attacked the ICDC compound with rockets and Iraqi soldiers repelled the attackers. 

"You see, this is an Iraqi base," Skuta said.  "They're out there right now in the midst of a firefight.  These guys can take care of themselves."

Maj. Rick Smith, the battalion's civil affairs officer, began the proceedings welcoming local leaders, Marines and ICDC soldiers and complimenting the hard work of the local Iraqis.

"Our goal here and every month is to focus on a brighter future for Iraq, and for the people of this region," Smith said.

The ceremony started with the drumbeat along with the melody of an Iraqi flute.  Dancers, joined by the local Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, danced while an Iraqi vocalist sang.

Civil Affairs Group Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment met regularly with local leaders since arriving in Iraq earlier this year.  The opening of the Iraqi base was marked by a groundbreaking ceremony for a new barracks, unveiling of a new rifle and pistol range and presentation of four new ICDC vehicles.

"We meet with these guys at least once a month," said Sgt. Brandon Kovach, a CAG team leader.  "CAG puts these meetings together and the battalion discuses with the locals proposed ideas for the next 30 days."

Kovach said working to get the ICDC soldiers ready was "challenging" at first, but the situation has improved.

Marines treated guests to a Marine marksmanship demonstration, by having ICDC soldiers show off the skills they've acquired since training with Marines.  Marines from the battalion's forward operating base trained 10 ICDC soldiers in Marine Corps marksmanship.  Two ICDC soldiers will soon instruct the rest.

"Once all of the soldiers in the 503rd Battalion can shoot like this they'll be a force to be reckoned with," Skuta said.

"We're seeing great improvements," Kovach said of the ICDC soldiers ready to take on security operations.  "We can't fail."