CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq – A training base, full of history between the Iraqi army and U.S. forces, transitioned Aug. 21.
Soldiers of Company A, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Division – North, officially transitioned Kirkush Military Training Base, Iraq, back to the Iraqi army.
For weeks, soldiers of Company A worked tirelessly to clean the area and conduct sensitive item sweeps to ensure the IA received the base in serviceable condition, said Capt. Jesse Harden, commander of Company A.
“We turned ([he base] over with the same standards as we would expect to have received it,” said Harden a Killeen, Texas native.
The transition comes after years of training that took place on the small compound, said Harden whose company conducted Tadreeb al Shamil, or all-inclusive training.
Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, “Gimlets,” 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, were first to step back and let Iraqis lead the training at KMTB. They led training and advising the year prior to 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, taking command of the base.
“We realized we were giving these guys training, but they really had nothing to sustain it after they received the training,” said Sgt. Christopher Mola, an infantryman, who was attached to Company A, 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, in March 2011.
“After we leave, they’ll have the instructors here to continue the training, whether it’s here at KMTB or at their own individual units, to ensure that the soldiers retain the knowledge they gained by coming here,” said Mola months ago.
Recently, soldiers of Company A instructed Iraqi soldiers on a variety of military tactics and standards during each 25-day training cycle, including individual weapons qualification, platoon live-fire and company training events.
KMTB is full of training history and provided a starting point for Iraqi soldiers to become self-reliant.
“This is where it all began,” said an Iraqi training officer, 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.”
The growth of the Iraqi forces and their training continued to expand with each passing month at KMTB.
“It’s very, very useful for us. We are doing the training, and we are the instructors now,” said Staff Sgt. Ayad, a 5th IA Div. instructor at KMTB.
“We know [U.S. forces] will try as much as possible to help us stand for ourselves. We’re trying to get the most important training that we’ll need to defend our people and our country,” explained Ayad.
U.S. forces continued to motivate and train Iraqi forces with great success, added Harden. The culmination of training and transition was “bittersweet” for him.
“We saw a lot of progress with unit discipline. It was refreshing to see [Iraqi soldiers’] commitment to the training and themselves,” said Harden.
First Lt. Kellan Sams, executive officer, Company A, agreed with Harden about the progress of the Iraqi soldiers.
“The Iraqi army soldiers are motivated and always ready to get at (the training),” explained Sams.
Additionally, the Iraqi soldiers never failed to show gratitude to Soldiers of Company A, added Harden
“There was a lot of thanks on an individual level,” he said of the Iraqi soldiers.
Harden’s appreciation went to his soldiers, who trained more than 1500 Iraqi soldiers within two months, and didn’t allow complacency to set in.
“[Soldiers] were more focused on the mission … focused on the basics and took accountability everyday,” added Harden.
Staying focused was important when the advise, train and assist mission transitioned, resulting in a greater need for force protection, said Sams.
In the end, Iraqi soldiers on KMTB provided security for the base as the last of U.S. forces at the Commando compound left, he said.