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Marines live with and train ING soldiers

1 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment are borrowing a Vietnam-era tactic to countering terrorism within the Iraqi population.

It's called the Combined Action Program and it was largely touted as one of the ingenious tactical approaches to emerge during the Vietnam War.  Marines here revived the idea and are putting it into practice.  They're finding concept challenging, but also rewarding.  

Marines from the battalion's Weapons Company and the Iraqi National Guard's Company D, from the 505th Battalion, live, train and fight together at a camp in Al Kharma.  Their entire existence is integrated.  Marines train the Iraqi soldiers while Iraqi soldiers familiarize and integrate Marines into their Arabic culture. 

"What makes this program successful is that everything we do here is Marine and Iraq interaction," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Fox, a 30-year-old from Rome, N.Y., serving as a platoon sergeant for 81 mm Mortar Platoon.  "These soldiers could barely crawl when we got here, but there's so much Marine-Iraqi bonding that they've made a complete turn-around."

Marines and ING soldiers spend their days enhancing soldier skills like infantry tactics, and physical and weapons training.  They learn the tools that help preserve security throughout the surrounding hamlets together.

The time spent living alongside each other paid off. 

Leading by example and one-on-one training sessions with Iraqi senior enlisted and officers helped get the junior soldiers committed to the program, said 1st Lt. Donald J. Toscano, a 27-year-old from Miami who is the platoon commander for 81 mm Mortars Platoon and the camp's officer-in-charge.

"Some of them have attend Baghdad's military college, so we can only give recommendations or explain how we operate," Toscano said. "The younger guys just weren't used to ... training, but they've made a lot of progress.

Cultural differences still challenge Marines, said Lance Cpl. Jesus E. Martinez, a 27-year-old from Houston serving as a camp armorer.  Marines, he said, sometimes have a tough time understanding the lives these soldiers led before U.S. involvement.

"The ING soldiers are good to go, but trying to find a happy medium is so tough," Martinez said.  "It's challenging because they've gone through so many rough times that Americans aren't used to."

The Iraqi's Company D is made up of four platoons that rotate from specific duties, which calls for a day off during the week. Each platoon is assigned a Marine noncommissioned officer who serves as a liaison.

While the soldiers break from their duties, the Marines keep busy passing on their infantry tactics.

"We started off with basic hand and arm signals, and small fire team formations, but now they can search for car bombs," explained Cpl. Scott T. Nelson, a 24-year-old from Edmond, Okla.  "They've also been taught how to deal with noncompliant subjects during personnel searches - how to render them to the ground."

The training paid off.  Iraqi soldiers can now effectively conduct vehicle searches and checkpoints, weapons maintenance and presentation, and foot-patrols.

"They enjoy going on foot-patrols," Nelson explained. "They love kicking in doors.  They're go-getters."

Nelson recalled giving a security halt during a patrol because of a suspected improvised explosive device that had wires hanging out.

"One of the soldiers just walked up to it, kicked it around and shouted 'all clear' to the rest of us," Nelson explained.

Nelson said bravery like that is an indicator of eagerness to take back their country.

"The locals refer to them as heroes because they're helping keep their towns safe," Fox added.  "We have soldiers who've been captured and tortured, but they're still sticking with us and committed to their country."

Toscano said he's reassured in the reliability and tactical progress the Iraqi units are displaying.  They and their families are threatened by terrorists.  They know the price it takes to claim the streets for a free society and are willing to stick to their goals.

"We try to stress that all of this is for their families and country," Toscano said. "We also stress there will be people who don't want a free Iraq after we leave."

It's seems odd, but Toscano said the CAP concept is the most assured way to getting Marines out of Iraq.  The more closely Marines live and work with Iraqi forces, the more professional and independent they seem to be.  That translates to an Iraqi force that's no longer reliant on their Marine mentors.

"We know the Iraqi people want us out of here," Toscano said.  "The CAP program is the bread and butter of winning the war."