News: Iraqi, US troops train to succeed at KMTB
Story by Staff Sgt. Ricardo Branch
KIRKUSH MILITARY TRAINING BASE, Iraq – When the sun crests over mountains in the east, a new day begins for soldiers at Kirkush Military Training Base located in the Diyala province of Iraq. A battalion of Iraqi Army soldiers rises in the morning, accompanied by a cadre of Iraqi leaders and U.S. advisors.
Although rarely used as a base during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraqi Army units recently increased their attendance at KMTB during Operation New Dawn to ensure the army becomes trained to a national military standard.
Lt. Col. Ali Dawood Alwi said he never thought he would be arming Iraqi soldiers from a training center to succeed in safeguarding their own country.
“This is where it all began,” said Ali, describing the training grounds at KMTB. “This is where one of the first soldiers was trained to pick up a rifle and begin the steps to protect their country. This is also where we teach them to protect themselves, and protect the people of Iraq.”
Alwi, the training officer for the Iraqi Training Battalion, helps train the new crop of Iraqi protectors, a task that has become larger due to operational training requirements, and the need to refine soldier skills in the existing IA battalions.
“Our sole function here is to train the Iraqi Army,” Alwi said. “We get the new and old soldiers and give them the skills to ensure their success at the company and platoon level.”
Ali said he served as one of the initial Iraqi officers recruited to begin the process of rebuilding a new Iraqi Army, and has overseen much of the training at KMTB.
“At the start, coalition forces were conducting the training here,” he said. “They supplied logistics and instructed classes for our soldiers on how to shoot, move and communicate. Now it’s Iraqis conducting the training with U.S. soldiers advising them.”
The rebuilding of the training process and continually building up the number of troops at the base was a long process, said Ali, adding that the situation greatly improved over time.
“First there was a lot of U.S. soldiers here, which was good,” he said. “They did a lot of the training, but have handed a lot more to Iraqi trainers over the years. Now we’re providing much of the direction and purpose of the training.”
Ali cited one recent example from the Al Hadayda Palm Grove incident last September where Iraqi soldiers took casualties from fighting violent extremists in a rural environment.
Following the incident, the cadre and U.S. soldiers looked at ways to modify the training to reflect the ever-changing conditions on a battlefield, he explained.
“We now place an emphasis on woodland fighting,” he said. “There are a lot of [palm groves] where insurgents like to hide, so we adapted here as well from that incident.”
Soldiers attending KMTB undergo a training program focused on tasks such as, weapons qualification, a military occupation specialty qualification courses and squad and platoon leader training courses.
Iraqi Training Battalion Cadre directly supervises the instruction.
“Training Iraqi Army soldiers here really makes you love your job,” said Lt. Col. Zead Tarek, the senior transportation officer for the ITB at the base. “In the beginning I didn’t start out here. I didn’t arrive to KMTB until 2009, and I’ve enjoyed my time ever since.”
Zead said his love for the job stems from the experiences he shares with Iraqi soldiers who arrive with a thirst for knowledge to better themselves and their country.
The fondest memories come from soldiers of different backgrounds who bonded as brothers-in-arms after training, sweating and learning from each other, he remarked.
“Sometimes you get a Sunni, Shia, or Kurd, who might not like one another,” he said. “They may not always agree with one another, but out here everyone is the same. If they have an issue with a soldier, a trip to the commander’s office fixes it quickly, but that is rare … most put on the uniform and embrace the soldier lifestyle.”
In addition to training at the schoolhouse and small unit tasks, U.S. Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division train battalions of 5th Iraqi Army Division in field-level exercises for the Tadreeb Al Shamil, an Iraqi-directed plan to train the northern forces.
Lt. Gen. Ali Gadon, the commander of Iraqi Ground Forces, mandated all battalions of the 5th IA Div. complete a rotation at KMTB.
Each battalion goes through a 25-day training cycle learning to better operate at the squad, platoon, and battalion levels.
“We were tasked with bringing Iraqi soldiers to a central location where we could help train them as an entire battalion in month-long training, which will bring about annual training for the entire 5th Iraqi Army,” said Maj. Blake Lackey, operations officer for the 1st Bn., 21st Inf. Regt., 2nd AAB, 25th Inf. Div.
To date, two cycles of Iraqi soldiers from 5th IA Div. completed the course, which is expected to continue for the next few months before transitioning to full Iraqi control.
The 5th IA Div. developed the training cycle to enable the army to maintain its combat readiness in Diyala and simultaneously ensure their Iraqi battalions each have the opportunity to complete a rotation at the KTMB.
“We’ve done the training for a little over two months, and already you can see improvements from it,” Lackey said.
He cited one example where Iraqi soldiers completed a company-level night-fire exercise, something which many of the Iraqi troops have never done before.
“We were conducting basic rifle marksmanship at night,” Lackey said. “It was one of the first times some of the Iraqis had fired their M-16s at night. When the firing was over, the U.S. soldiers demonstrated better firing techniques to help the Iraqis at night.”
Once the firing was complete, the Iraqi soldiers started cheering and singing, clearly excited to be learning new skills.
“It was pretty motivating to see that big of an impact from our training, how just learning a few more skills can change a person’s attitude so quickly,” Lackey said. “It’s extremely fulfilling to see those kinds of changes in someone. We see that often within just a four day period.”
He added, “As we move toward June, the entire process for the battalion collective training will be planned, resourced and led by the Iraqi Army.”
While U.S. forces transitioned from combat operations to an advise and assist role as part of Operation New Dawn, their Iraqi counterparts assumed the lead for their own training operations at KMTB, U.S. Division-North and the rest of Iraq.