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Iraqi battalion assumes security role from soldiers in 1st Marine Division zone

1 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

A new page was turned in the Iraqi security force history book here June 1.

Hundreds of citizens from the neighboring community of Khalidiyah gathered outside the camp's perimeter to witness as American soldiers from 1st Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment turned over security to the 502nd Battalion of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps.

The Army's 34th Armored Regiment is assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, which is in turn assigned to the 1st Marine Division in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.

"This is a historical moment," said Army Maj. John A. Nagl, battalion operations officer. "It's a very visible demonstration of the Coalition's faith and trust in the ICDC's capabilities."

The camp, a former Republican Guard base, lies at a pivotal position, making first-rate security a must.

It is located a few miles from the only bridge between Ramadi and Fallujah that crosses the Euphrates River. Additionally, the cemetery adjacent to the camp is a known location for anti-Iraqi forces looking to launch attacks against Coalition Forces.

"All of the soldiers, Iraqi and American alike, are working for a common goal," explained Army Lt. Col. Jeff E. Swisher, commander for 1st Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment. "They all want a safe, secure and sovereign Iraq."

He also said the transfer of authority is a symbol to the Iraqi people that both sides are striving to put Iraqi forces in charge of the country's security.

"The 502nd ICDC is now responsible for the security of the area's critical infrastructure," he added. "They must also work to rid the area of terrorists who don't want to see a sovereign Iraq."

According to Nagl, the 502nd Battalion is comprised of five companies that will all eventually be given separate areas to protect.

"By July 1, all the companies will be given established strategic positions in the cities to ensure the security and protection of the people," explained Nagl, of Kansas City, Kan.

The 901 men of the 502nd Battalion will operate in the cities of Khalidiyah, Jazeera, Habbiniyah and the smaller communities in the surrounding areas, according to Iraqi Lt. Col. Hamad Shaher Farhan, commander of the 502nd Battalion.

Before assuming authority from the soldiers, the Iraqi soldiers received extensive training and operated alongside their American counterparts to get the hang of things.

"They spent about two months learning about dismounted and mounted patrols and weapons marksmanship," said Army Staff Sgt. Jody L. Bills, truck operator with 1st Battalion, 34th Armored Regiment. "It's nothing different from what an American soldier is taught."

Still, Nagl believes the Iraqis have tough roads ahead, but shouldn't have a difficult time adjusting.

"The 502nd was established only a few months ago," he explained. "They don't have the same level of training as American infantry. They are also not very well equipped right now."

Coalition Forces will continue to aid the ICDC and to ensure the equipment is sufficient for the tasks at hand.

"I meet with their leaders almost everyday," Nagl said. "We talk about everything they're going to need to be effective. As long as they continue to work hard, I see a very bright future for the ICDC."

Farhan also sees success in the future.

"I'm so proud and happy on this occasion," Farhan said. "The men of the 502nd are our fighting heroes. We are ready to make sure the people of Iraq are secure. We promise our loyalty to the area and will work for a democratic Iraq."