COMBAT OUTPOST TREBIL, Iraq --
A small band of Marine Corps warrior-instructors in the barren stretch of desert along the Iraqi-Jordanian border watched their Iraqi pupils graduate from a border police basic skills course Oct. 7.
Assisted by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers and Iraqi interpreters, the Marine Corps’ Port of Entry Transition Team (POETT) here designed and taught the course to a group of 26 Iraqi officials and police officers responsible for all vehicle traffic and commerce coming into and departing Iraq through the Port of Trebil. The port of entry is the only major crossing point into Jordan, one of Iraq’s primary trading partners.
The week-long course emphasized basic security skills such as subject-interviewing techniques, observation and recognition of threats, body behavior, searching people and vehicles and passport recognition.
“First and foremost, the POETT’s mission is to advise, train and mentor the various Iraqi port agencies and Iraqi Security Forces in order to achieve a higher and sustainable level of security at the port,” said Lt. Col. Boyd Miller, 38, the Trebil POETT leader from Murrieta, Calif.
A logistics officer by trade, Miller explained that because of the Arabic language and international relations training he went through at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, in addition to the pre-deployment training his team received in California, he arrived in Iraq last month fully prepared to lead his team in efforts to train a professional Iraqi border force.
“We’re not a COIN (counter-insurgency) force, and I’m not a battle space commander,” said Miller. “We are embedded advisors who live and work inside the port of entry with our Iraqi counterparts to achieve our mission. We are a transition team working toward a transfer of knowledge and skills to enable the Iraqis to ultimately provide adequate security for their country without coalition support.”
Miller explained that one of the biggest challenges for his team is to serve as an “honest broker” between the various agencies responsible for security here, to include the Iraqi port director’s office, the civil customs department, passport and residency offices, Iraqi commandos, port information officers and the customs police.
Col. Talib Ahbab Ramadan, a Fallujah native, is director of customs police in Trebil. With more than 26 combined years in the military and police, he is struggling with the current challenges, such as lack of an operating budget and dearth of equipment. Nonetheless, he is optimistic about the future.
As a result of his officers’ training with the Marines, Ramadan said he has seen a definite improvement. Even though most of our police officers have 20 or more years of experience, the Marines are teaching important additional skills, such as in apprehension procedures and passport inspection. In the practical application exercise, you can see their improvement.”
Miller and his Marines meet and dine with Ramadan at his office regularly and view the director as a wise, old warhorse with a colorful and warm personality.
“We’re a very wealthy country,” added Ramadan. “The success of our government in the future lies in our ability to develop our infrastructure, especially in the port regions. Equipping and arming our security forces will make them ready for future challenges.”
Ramadan’s right arm bears scars and 30 percent disability from wounds suffered during the last Iran-Iraq conflict, where he served as an Army officer. He has also made great personal sacrifices in the current fight against the insurgency, having spent three days in the captivity of insurgents. Because of the work he has done in support of the fledgling Iraqi democracy and the support he has shown for Coalition forces, an extremist anti-Coalition organization kidnapped him in June 2006 and forced his family to pay a $30,000 ransom to prevent his execution.
Undaunted, Ramadan remains focused on his mission to create a professional and honest cadre of officers who are fully capable of securing his country’s borders and ensuring the safe passage of freight, primarily exported oil, which is vital to the economic future of Iraq.
Commissioner Karim Shukur Mahmood, a 27-year-old veteran of the customs police who came here from Baghdad, personally went through the Marines’ most recent course alongside his junior officers.
Mahmood expressed his confidence in the new security force’s abilities, crediting the Marines with passing key skills in search techniques and training his troops to use the new X-ray machines which the U.S. government recently provided to the border police.
“I am 100 percent confident,” said Mahmood through an interpreter. “With this training and good equipment, the Iraqi Security Forces will be able to handle the security situation in the country very well.”
The Marine trainers are equally as confident.
“Their main strong point is proficiency in examining passports and documents, observation of personnel to determine if they’re lying or concealing something and attention to detail on a day-to-day basis,” said Gunnery Sgt. Bruce Henderson, 40, from San Simon, Ariz.
Drawing from his 20 years in the Marine Corps, which includes three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, Henderson is the team’s training chief and acting operations officer.
“Most of them show they’ve gained a lot of knowledge about interview and observation techniques and searching concealed places in a vehicle or on the body. I think they’re ready,” added Henderson.
Staff Sgt. Anthony Macias, the team’s logistics non-commissioned officer in charge, is also a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program black belt instructor trainer. A 33-year-old hard-charger from Corpus Christi, Texas, Macias selected relevant components of the MCMAP to instill a warrior ethos in the border police and give them the ability to discern how to implement escalation of force procedures, using the most passive measures with cooperative subjects and executing safe disarming procedures with those subjects who present a threat.
“We had to modify the training to address what they will face,” said Macias. “We went in-depth into temper and intent to determine the subjects’ intentions, how to deal with aggressive and non-aggressive people and proper use of escalation of force. Before [the training], they were very timid and nervous. They didn’t want to approach the subjects. By the end, they had confidence, which they showed through their commands and actions. They now know how to react in a situation.”
Officer Taha Humadi Dahi, clad in camouflage fatigues and toting an AK-47 rifle, is one of the senior Iraqi commandos, who are the most heavily armed members of the border units and are responsible for providing “guardian angel” security for the police officers as they search vehicles and personnel.
“There is about a 90 percent overall improvement in performance as a result of our training with Coalition forces,” said Dahi with the help of an interpreter. “The Iraqi ministries are starting to select the right people to perform key duties, such as police officers, teachers and rehiring previous Iraqi Army officers in Al Anbar Province.” said Dahi, 40, a former agriculture merchant from Habbaniya.
The keynote speaker for the graduation ceremony was Lt. Col. Khalid Mikhlif Hamad, deputy director of the Port of Trebil.
“This is a unique opportunity for you to work with Coalition (forces),” said Hamad. “Respect your instructors’ knowledge and remember everything they taught you. Always keep in mind that your job is to implement the rule of law.”
Miller and his team are scheduled to remain in Trebil for the next six months, during which time they expect to see more positive changes and a waning requirement for operational oversight by Coalition forces.