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Iraqi Army hones combat leadership the Marine Corps way

28 Apr 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

Iraqi Army soldiers are paying close attention to what the Marines have to say here.  They’re teaching them not just to be better soldiers, but to lead men in combat.

Marines and sailors from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, recently trained several Iraqi soldiers successful tactics during a ten-day Combat Squad Leaders Course.  It’s an on-going effort Marines continue to run at this small base just outside Fallujah, Iraq.

“We are here to influence and train some of the future leaders of the Iraqi Army,” said Staff Sgt. John M. Joudy, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the course.

A team of six Marines, one Navy corpsman and two interpreters spent their days teaching students ways to thrive on the battlefield.

“They are being taught techniques that will make them more survivable and successful out there,” Joudy, from New Milford, Conn. said “The students here get the same training the Marines get.”

Instructors were side-by-side the soldiers every step of the way to ensure they grasped the training.  Exercises ranged from zeroing their AK-47 assault rifles to plotting grid coordinates.

“It is my honor to be here because the Marines teach us well and make us more confident in fighting the enemy,” said Asaad Alhasnawi, an Iraqi Army soldier and student here.

Part of that respect was due to the fact Marines are teaching the Iraqi soldiers as fellow men-of-arms.

“We treat them like Marines,” added Sgt. Donnie E. Hebert, infantryman and instructor. “I am firm, but fair with them. After the training day is over, we all hang out together and joke around just like Marines do.”

Soldiers who attended the course were picked by their command based on rank and those who displayed leadership skills.

Most students were noncommissioned officers, have some combat experience and have been in the Iraqi Army for more than two years, according to Cpl. Joseph J. Wilichoski, an instructor from Mahopae, N.Y.

“The men that come to us are motivated to be here and eager to learn,” Wilichoski said. “We give a class on NCO leadership and pick one of the soldiers to lead the men for the day. Immediately after hearing the class, they demonstrate what they have learned.”

Wilichoski said even the small gestures are sinking in and the Iraqi soldiers are mimicking their Marine mentors by, “keeping accountability, letting the other soldiers eat before they do and checking on their welfare. The things that make leaders what they are.”

Not every class gets the same training as the next.  Iraqi Army commanders recommend what tactics they want their soldiers educated on during their time here with the Marines.

“We are able to change gears to accommodate what the battalions want taught,” Joudy explained.

Each member of each class was inspected by Marines for proper gear and equipment to help them succeed while training here and fighting the enemy. Weapons were inspected to ensure they operate correctly.   Damaged personal armor plating was replaced and hygiene kits were passed out.

“My team is here to help and do what we can to make them better soldiers,” Joudy said.

“They teach us to be brave,” one soldier said. “I feel that this course will help my people in the army to better themselves.”

Some instructors delved into their own seabags to help out their Iraqi counterparts.

“I noticed one of my students wearing a pair of boots that were in pretty bad shape,” Hebert said. “We didn’t have any extra boots to give out, so I gave him a pair of my own.”

The team devoted to training the foreign soldiers believes in their mission and knows the importance of their role.  The greatest satisfaction, though, was watching their soldiers grow.

“It feels great to see these guys perform,” Wilichoski said. “It’s nice to know that we are making a pretty big impact on them.”

For their part, the Iraqi soldiers know they will roam the streets with greater ferocity against the insurgents.

“By taking the skills that we learn from the Marines and putting them together from the experiences that we have already, we can kill the enemy a lot better,” Alhasnawi said.