CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq — For centuries, the mission of the Soldier was simple: annihilate the enemy, scatter their forces and destroy their armies. For the Soldiers of the Military Transition Team attached to the 14th Provisional Transport Regiment, there is an entirely different mission: to assist the rebirth of the Iraqi Army.
"It's why we're here now," said Chief Petty Officer Edward Telles, 14th PTR MiTT medic, "to train coalition forces, the host nation forces, whether it's medical, whether it's weapons, just military business in order for their government to be strong, or their military to be strong."
The National Strategy for Victory in Iraq advocates the creation of military transition teams to be attached to Iraqi military units. These MiTTs, working in tandem with their Iraqi partners, are responsible for training the Iraqi Army into a self-sustaining force.
"Our mission is really threefold as we work with the PTR, our Iraqi counterparts," said Maj. Scott Virgil, 14th PTR MiTT team chief. "At the most basic level, it's assisting in the training of their jundi, their Soldiers.
"The second tier of our mission, I'd say is our staff interaction. That starts with my interaction with my Iraqi counterpart, Col. Sabaa. And from there, it goes all the way down my team as well as their staff officers.
"Probably the third level of our mission is informing our highers and also the Iraqi highers the current status of the PTR and the Iraqi army."
Because MiTTs work so closely with the people of Iraq, members of the MiTT are instilled from the very beginning with the belief that they must respect the culture of Iraq in order for their partnership to flourish.
"Being a MiTT, you gotta kick in the cultural side before you even get to any of the actual training," said Virgil. "And it started back with training at Fort Riley all the way through here."
"The Iraqi culture is much more based on personal give and take, the building of the relationships," Virgil said. "That builds the faith that kind of allows you to take some leaps. Where they take a leap and go with how we're doing our business, and vice versa, so we're both going down the same path."
In order to build rapport with his Iraqi partner, Virgil and the MiTT participate in "anything from sitting down to have the daily chai to having meals with them to having them here." Virgil also mentioned "some of the more fun events, that are more fun for both us and the Iraqi army," like going to the shooting range, which Virgil and the MiTT had done recently.
"The PTR commander had conveyed that he had wanted to get some range time for his guys," Virgil said. "This gets into building relationships, just letting the PTR commander throw some rounds downrange off a couple of our weapons."
"I think he got a good kick out of it," said Virgil, "and it will buy us a little wasta, a little influence when we deal with him next trying to get some range time."
While interacting with IA leadership is a very important part of the MiTT's mission, another important assignment is assisting in the training of the average Iraqi Soldier. This is accomplished by creating programs to teach Soldiers of the 14th PTR vital skills. These programs can take over a month of planning and a month of training, as well as coordination with IA counterparts to determine what classes they want, and where and when the training will occur. Even when the training courses are underway, members of the MiTT have to be sure they are allowing the Iraqis a chance to grow on their own.
"A couple months ago, we started out with assisting the Iraqi with a training program that focused on individual and crew-served tasks," Virgil explained. "The problem that we found, and granted, it was the first time we were working with the PTR, but it was too U.S. led, and all it was was us training their jundi."
"We didn't get after any long-term goals of sustained capability, sustained capacity," Virgil said. "It was just us training their Soldiers. We really weren't getting after what we needed with them."
After evaluating their successes and failures, Virgil and the MiTT implemented a new three-week training program that tested the IA's ability to teach weapons, vehicle maintenance and combat first aid.
"We wanted to get some good material in the three areas of weapons, maintenance, and medical treatment, but we also really put an added focus on their ability not just to know it and do it, but to be able to teach it," said Virgil. "The doing and the teaching is what we're after, and that's where, I think, long term, we'll have greater benefits. "
The three-week programs and other interaction has given Soldiers of the MiTT the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the Iraqi people, which has given them valued insight into the Iraqi way of life.
"It kind of woke me up to their culture," said Sgt. Darren Macomber, an Arlington, Wash., native and a mechanic with the 308th Brigade Support Battalion. "They're good people."
Virgil agrees with this assessment, calling the Iraqi people inheritors of "a proud culture, a loyal culture, and a tough culture." In addition, Virgil adds that both Americans and Iraqis can learn from their partnership.
"Probably the biggest enjoyment I've gotten on the relationship side is talking with Col. Sabaa just over his experiences over the last 30, 40 years as well as mine," said Virgil. "If you look at the history of like, the Iran-Iraq war, our interactions with them, the Gulf War, now what we have going on now, even going back a hundred, two hundred years, there's a long history here, and it's been very interesting knowing it from a first hand account from my interactions with my PTR commander."
This transfer of information from nation to nation, army to army, and Soldier to Soldier is what the MiTT is all about: strength through symbiosis, and symbiosis through mutual respect.
"It's just sharing knowledge," Telles said. "Whether it's medical training, whether it's weapons training, whether it's maintenance, these are the types of things that each military needs to function correctly and to be successful.
"As the United States, we have a lot of knowledge," said Telles, "and we would like to give that to other countries to see them grow and be strong."