Featured News

Team of Marines mentor Iraqi soldiers on path to independent operations

15 Apr 2006 | Sgt. Roe F. Seigle

Arguably the most important mission of Coalition Forces in Iraq is assisting Iraqi Security Forces with eventually spearheading all security operations in Iraq.

The transition between the two military forces in Al Anbar Province will occur by year's end,  according to Coalition officials.

In this Euphrates River valley city, the task of guiding Iraqi Army progress falls on the shoulders of a handful of Marines here who live, eat, train and fight with the Iraqi soldiers.

The group is appropriately dubbed a “Military Transition Team.”

Transition Teams, which are partnered with Iraqi Army units throughout Al Anbar Province, are tasked with advising the Iraqi military in such areas as marksmanship, counterinsurgency operations, intelligence gathering, and other military skills crucial to providing security here.

“The Iraqi soldiers have their minds set on becoming independent of Coalition Forces,” said Staff Sgt. Mike Wear, 28, intelligence chief assigned to the MTT here. 

The team’s task is to prepare the young Iraqi Army to take over the job of securing its own country, which Coalition Forces say will happen by year’s end.

In Baghdadi, a small city nestled along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province, Iraqi soldiers are becoming independent, said Wear.

The Iraqi soldiers have recently lost two of their comrades in attacks by insurgents.  A major was killed while on leave at his home in Baghdadi and another was killed by a suicide bomber here. 

According to the commanding officer of the local Iraqi Army unit here, the soldiers’ motivation to fight insurgents is steady despite the loss of two of their own comrades. During a memorial service for a fallen soldier, the Iraqi commander of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, assured his soldiers they were performing well and encouraged them to continue to listen and learn from the Marines. 

“I want the soldiers to continue to do the job they are doing,” said the commanding officer, who wishes to remain anonymous. “We need the Marines’ support and they are very professional when it comes to training my soldiers.”

According to Wear, the Military Transition Team here “has formed an unbreakable bond” with the soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion by working with the soldiers night and day.  Wear says this is important because the Marines and soldiers need to trust each other when they conduct joint operations in the Al Anbar province.

“We care about the Iraqi Soldiers like they were our family,” said Wear. “We work day and night with the soldiers.  When we see them succeed, we go to sleep that night with a sense of accomplishment.”

Wear, a native of Port Saint Joe, Fla., ensures soldiers have plenty of food, water, equipment and basic logistical necessities to conduct combat and peacekeeping operations in the cities that make up the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

Recently, Wear and the rest of the local Transition Team here, observed Iraqi soldiers from 2nd Battalion conduct an independent operation.  The soldiers set up vehicle control points and stopped any vehicles from entering or leaving the city of Sakran West while Marines searched for insurgents. Independent operations conducted by Iraqi soldiers are becoming more commonplace as they become more capable of operating without the assistance of Coalition Forces, said Wear.

“They (Iraqi Soldiers) not only performed well on their first independent mission, they did it with confidence,” said Wear as he took pictures of several soldiers at an Army outpost in order to make military identification cards for them.   

“Getting the identification cards has been their biggest request since we started training the soldiers in February,” he said. 

“We need identification cards to show we are soldiers and not insurgents when we go home on our time off,” said “Aaref,” one of the battalion’s soldiers.

According to Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, the senior advisor of the MTT and a 23-year Marine Corps veteran from Brookville, Fla., the Marines treat the soldiers just like they are Marines – with dignity and respect.

“Some of these soldiers fought against us in the invasion,” said Lovejoy after visiting with the commanding officer of 2nd Battalion to discuss future operations in the Al Anbar province to reduce insurgent activity.  “They have no hard feelings towards us and they are only interested in serving their country.”

By establishing good rapport with locals, Iraqi Soldiers are using “Iraqi solutions” for “Iraqi problems,” said Wear. Concocting their own solutions to problems brings the Iraqi soldiers one step closer to stability, said Wear.

“Even if the soldiers do not come up with a 100-percent right answer to a problem, it is going to be better for them in the long run than American forces coming up with an answer to the problems at hand,” said Wear. 

To further enhance the soldiers’ tactical abilities, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense in Baghdad purchased seven Humvees for the Iraqi soldiers here.

Now the Iraqis can provide their own convoy security, as the Humvees – the same used by Coalition Forces – are armored, according to Wear.  Soon, more of the vehicles will be purchased by the Iraqi Government and distributed to Iraqi Security Forces, said Wear. 

The vehicles’ armor provides a crucial defense to the soldiers on Iraq’s deadly roads, which are laden with roadside bombs known as improvised explosive devices, added Wear.

“We will give these soldiers everything in our power to help them succeed,” said Wear. “We are facilitating their success, but this is ultimately their success.”