Airmen prepare base for return to Iraqi control
Master Sgt. James Trefurt leads Iraqi soldiers in physical training at Camp Rustamiyah, Iraq, on Thursday, June 22. The soldiers are with the base defense battalion preparing to take over security for the camp, which houses NATO forces and the Iraqi Military Academy. Sergeant Trefurt is the NCO in charge of operations for the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brian Ferguson)
by Staff Sgt. Bryan Bouchard
U.S. Central Command Air Forces Public Affairs
6/26/2006 - CAMP AL RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq (AFPN) -- In order for coalition troops to leave Iraq, the Iraqis must first be prepared to take over operations from the coalition. Part of accomplishing that task involves coalition forces training and validating the new Iraqi military.
Four Airmen assigned to a small forward operating base about 10 miles outside Baghdad are responsible for that training.
"Our job is to train, advise and mentor the Iraqi force to help them transition to taking over their country and getting coalition troops back home," said Maj. Derek Jenkins, the senior military adviser from the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The camp houses the Iraqi Military Academy and the Joint Staff College, all advised by NATO. While the Iraqis haven't been given the keys to the base yet, Airmen with the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team are ensuring they will be ready to take over security when the time comes.
"The Iraqis are learning a lot," said Master Sgt. Anthony Roop, a security forces Airman deployed from Whiteman AFB, Mo. "The Jundhi, which are the same as a private or an Airman, are very motivated, very positive. They want to do the job and they're ready to get to work."
The Airmen are all here for 365-day deployments. They spent two months training at Fort Hood, Texas, before following on for more training in Southwest Asia. They have been working with the Iraqi base security team since May.
"It's been an excellent experience being able to watch them from the ground up," said Master Sgt. James Trefurt, a security forces Airman from Eglin AFB, Fla. "It's interesting to see how the culture affects training as well."
After basic training, coalition forces received the soldiers at Numaniyah in southern Iraq for their initial base defense course, which lasted about a month. Following that, the team and the new Iraqi battalion arrived back at Al Rustamiyah in June.
The concept of a four-person military training team is not a new player in Iraq, but the significance of NATO's involvement in Al Rustamiyah as the center of higher education for the Iraqi military makes this mission especially important. NATO has deployed a certification team to work alongside Major Jenkins and his team to validate the effectiveness of the Iraqi defense battalion.
There are people from several NATO nations who populate the Iraqi instructor base for the Iraqi Military Academy and Joint Staff College there.
"If NATO nations are uncomfortable with the security provided by this base defense unit, there are a whole variety of negative consequences," said Army Maj. Jim Payne, executive officer for the NATO certification team. "But on the flip side, if this unit can in fact provide robust force protection, and the NATO nations see that they can, then it helps demonstrate that the Iraqis can take ownership and provide what is necessary."
The Jundhi have been learning everything necessary to create and maintain a robust base defense capability. Iraqi soldiers said they have the will and motivation to get the job done in order to return Iraq to its people.
"We've trained real world, and we have a lot of experience from the former army," said Iraqi army Pvt. Ali Swadhi Medhi. "It's a good feeling to be part of the process to stabilize this country again."
Regardless of the successes of the process, all of the instructors agreed that this endeavor has not been without its share of growing pains and challenges.
One of those is the language barrier. Sergeant Roop said he and the rest of the team rely on interpreters to interact with Iraqis. When interpreters are not around, he said sign language works for many tasks. But the hardest nut to crack for the team has been to untrain what has been a constant in the Iraqi military for years.
"They don't use NCOs the same way we do. So we are trying to help change that," Sergeant Roop said.
For Sergeant Trefurt, the Iraqis' own motivation can be a stumbling block in the process.
"One of the biggest challenges we have is that the Jundhi are motivated to get things done, however, they don't have the necessary skills yet," he said. "Some of the challenges are empowering them and letting them know they will be taking over and we won't be here forever."
That is the goal -- to prepare each Jundhi to take over the security of the NATO operation here.
"A lot of the Jundhi I work with have already showed interest that they are ready to take over the mission now and actually start doing their job," he said. "They've been extremely knowledgeable and I'm impressed with the (progress) in a short period of time. I know they're capable now."