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Boot camp begins for Iraqi recruits, Marine-style

20 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

There aren't any of the famed yellow footprints, but Iraqis are learning the basics of soldiering, courtesy of the U.S. Marines. 

More than 30 Iraqi men, 18-to-37-years-old from the city of Zadan, got their first taste of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps boot camp.  The seven-day basic training package is taught by Marines.

The first day of boot camp began with a speech from the commanding officer before the recruits are introduced to their drill instructors - Marines ranging in rank from privates first class to sergeants.

"I respect you for what you're doing for your country," said Maj. Kevin P. Collins, officer-in-charge of the training camp.  "By doing this, you are making Iraq a stronger place with your presence."

After the speech, the recruits were introduced to their drill instructors and the training began. 

"About ninety percent of the guys we see come through here have prior military experience in the old Iraqi army," said Sgt. Rick A. Wiggins, a 26-year-old from Wiggins, N.Y., who serves as the training noncommissioned officer.  "We're not teaching them a lot of stuff they don't already know. We're just tightening up what they do know to make them a better unit."

Tightening up what they know is a difficult process for the Marines in charge of training the future ICDC soldiers.  They have to overcome a language barrier and teach military skills from an Iraqi perspective instead of an American one.

"All the commands we give are in Arabic," Wiggins explained.  "Everything from simple drill commands to firing their weapons.  The drill instructors have to learn them in Arabic so they can be better teachers."

The first days of training involve the same things Marine Corps recruits go through - mostly a lot of stress.  Marines abide by the same code as do drill instructors at the Corps' two depots.  That doesn't mean stress can't be applied, though.

"It takes a lot of work to bring these guys up the standard we want them at," said Sgt. Brandon G. Guthrie, a 27-year-old senior drill instructor for the platoon, from Riverside, Calif.  "When we get done with them, they'll be acting and thinking like a team.  That's what they'll need when they get out on the streets."

The use of stress and military training forms the men into a cohesive unit.  Most of the Iraqi recruits haven't participated in organized physical training, so the incentive training is effective.  By the end of the seven-day period, the Iraqis feel like they have overcome an obstacle and accomplished something for which they can be proud.

"Going through this training makes them credible on the streets and binds them as a team," explained Collins, a 40-year-old from Gainesville, Fla.  "The first class we trained here felt like they were such a good team they didn't want to be separated for their assignments.  That's what we're looking to do with the boot camp here."

There are hurdles the Marines find tough too.  Marines work through differences in techniques, such as movements during drill practice, which are much different and more exaggerated than the drill the Marines know by heart.

"Even though they do things differently than us, we still try to teach them everything they'll need," Guthrie said. 

He added that training package was all-inclusive - from how to shoot weapons to brushing teeth.  That way, Marines brought all the Iraqis up to same training standards.

"The whole boot camp is a really big shock to their systems," Guthrie said.  "Getting these guys to work together as a team is hard to do sometimes, because they've never had to work together with a large group of people in this kind of environment before."

After the seven days of basic training, a graduation ceremony is held for the troops.  They are then sent to two weeks infantry training where they learn about tactics, squad and individual movements.  After they graduate from their infantry training, they are put on the street as Iraq's first line of defense - Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers.