By Sgt. Rick Rzepka
1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division
BAYJI, Iraq – Iraqis taking care of Iraqis. This is the shape of things to come here.
Garnering the trust and cooperation of the Iraqi people, Iraqi army battalions near the oil rich town of Bayji, have made the turn. No longer is the burgeoning Iraqi army being coddled by their American counterparts. Rather, according to Military Transition Team Soldiers of the 1st Battlaion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Iraq's defenders are confident, determined and capable of securing its citizens.
As violence tapers off across the country, Iraq's security forces are increasingly taking responsibility for the security of the people. Seen as a critical component of success here, Iraq's army has grown from a pocket-sized force in 2004, to a military monolith that has earned the trust of the people and the respect of its coalition partners.
"In the last 11 months, they have made a 180 degree turnaround," said Maj. Oscar Pintado, who leads 1-327th's MiTT Team. "They are now conducting unilateral operations at the battalion level throughout their area of operations with little or no coalition support," he said.
The support they do receive comes from the Soldiers of Pintado's advisor team, who serve at teachers, trainers and mentors for the maturing army.
"We operate as a battalion staff, trainers and combat advisors," said Pintado whose 13-man team lives and works with their IA counterparts.
By design, MiTT teams encompass a wide range of military specialties and ranks, which offers the IA a well rounded training experience. The Soldiers, who range from the rank of Staff Sgt. to Major, are experts in specialties like supply, infantry, medical, intelligence and communications. They seek to broaden the IA's toolkit by providing them the skills they need to operate at a level necessary to win the peace.
To see the IA conducting operations autonomously more than a year ago in the Salah ad Din province, was unheard of, said Pintado. "They were heavily dependent for logistical and operational support," he said. "They had a lot of challenges due to the fairly young Iraqi logistical system," he said.
Today, as the IA continues to refine its supply and transportation systems, Iraqi soldiers are more willing than ever to safeguard Iraq from its enemies. "They are now more proactive, confident, determined and willing to take the fight to the enemy," said Pintado. "They are capable of securing the population."
According to Pintado the development of the IA has been a major factor in reducing violence in the province and demonstrates to the people that the IA is a legitimate and well disciplined force. "Their presence has allowed the people to feel more secure and has opened doors for more cooperation between the population and the IA in general," he said.
For the 1-327 MiTT, leading by example has paid dividends that will have long lasting effects.
"They see you there sweating, operating, eating and training with them, and they will be more open to listen and learn from you, but most importantly, they will want to show you that they can do it and are as capable as you are," said Pintado.
This work, The Shape of Things to Come: Military Transition Teams in Iraq, by Rick Rzepka, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.