sábado, 21 de enero de 2006

Iraqi Army gearing for the future of Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq(Jan. 21, 2006) -- Twenty-five-year-old Iraqi Army 1st Lt. Hussin, who’s been a soldier for five years, smiled at the thought of a promising future for Iraq and the hopes of defeating terrorists which plague his country. When asked if he thinks whether the country will divide or remain together he responded, “Together, but not just Iraq…all of the world.”

Despite the presence of insurgents throughout the country, Iraqi soldiers are hopeful their training will help rebuild a peaceful Iraq. With assistance from coalition forces the growing Iraqi Army continues to recruit and train men.

The army was developed under the Iraq Ministry of Defense after the 400,000-man army of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein was disbanded. The army is nearly 100,000 troops-strong, but the goal is to have 135,000 properly trained soldiers.

The East Fallujah Iraqi Camp, a location originally set up for operations during Operation Al Fajr, is the site of a new class of recruits ready to take on the challenge to become Iraqi soldiers.

“We were hoping to get 700 [recruits] in here, but when they found out they were going to the Al Anbar province only 420 got on the buses,” said Col. Mike Lentz, EFIC camp commandant.

The main recruiting stations are located in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul. According to Multi-National Force--Iraq, the men range between ages 18-35 and were recruited from Al Anbar province via advertisements and word of mouth. Upon completion of training the soldiers must serve their country for two years.

Until now, training was conducted at one of two Iraqi Military training bases –Kirkush or An Numaniyah, however the growing need for soldiers called for other training grounds.

“The Kirkush military training instructors are very professional and very thorough,” said Lt. Col. Scott Lystad, Ministry of Defense Coordinator, Iraqi Security Forces Directorate. “They have high standards. They’re strict on the recruits, and the recruits seem to respond to it very well.”

Kirkush instructors are known to be self-sufficient, however, coalition forces comprised of Marines and Soldiers will advise them.

The training is condensed into a four-week course. Normally soldiers undergo a standard eight-week basic training program that includes basic soldiering skills, weapons marksmanship, individual tactics, physical training, soldier discipline and drill and ceremony. Later they enroll in advanced courses in infantry tactics, heavy weapons, land navigation and other operational training both before and after joining units in the field.

“It’s a little more advanced than what we would be teaching at a regular course because of the current conflict,” said Army Staff Sgt. Travis Case, military advisor, Advisory Support Team. “We want to give them as much information as we can in a short period to get ready.”

Army cadre such as Case train Iraqi soldiers in high volumes anywhere from 500 to 1,000. Although the regular training bases have better training resources than what is available here instructors make do with what they have because of the current demand to fill immediate requirements.

“They want to become part of something,” said Case, referring to the Iraqi soldiers. “They’ll endure throughout the whole course on a promise that they’re going to do something for their country.”

The ultimate goal for coalition forces is to turn the Iraqi recruits into effective combatants. Instilling in the recruits self-sustaining discipline that will endure after their training is complete will take strong officer and noncommissioned officer leadership to enforce it. To better train recruits, coalition forces recruited soldiers who served under the old regime. Such officers and NCOs proved to be invaluable to the mission as they provided input and advice.

“In the old army, all they knew was suffering,” said Hussin. “There is a big difference between the old and new, and we try to do everything we can for these soldiers so that together we can build a new army and a new Iraq.”

Although there are several differences in military eras, one noticeable difference is the amount of respect within the soldiers. Members of tribes and sects are treated equally. Notable differences in training between U.S. forces and former training under Saddam’s regime include schooling in human rights, the laws of land warfare and tolerance in a multi-ethnic team.

“There is a big difference in armies,” said Iraqi Army training instructor, 1st Lt. Bashar, who’s been a soldier for 12 years. “We cannot even compare it. Here we provide our soldiers with everything they need.”

The army’s performance is crucial to plans to draw down the number of U.S. troops in the country. Iraqi Army officials still find the need for coalition force presence.

“The coalition forces work with us together and help us to build a new Iraq,” said Hussin. “Every country hopes to be left alone without anyone to help them. Us…not yet, not Iraq. We need them here. We cannot handle everything. We need support from any country willing to help Iraq.”

“We have nearly 450 soldiers to make good Iraqi Army to finish terrorists,” said Bashar. “God willing, we will do anything for Iraq. God willing, all of us can work together under coalition forces to make good soldiers to fight for our future.”

Hashem admits he has not seen much improvement in Iraq, but he is confident they will be able to put out quality soldiers in the city and the army will eventually defeat terrorism in their country.

“God willing that will not be a problem for long,” said Bashar, referring to the terrorists. “And if there is, every problem has a solution. We will find the solution and finish it.”

Confident in their training, the two Iraqi instructors are proud to don their uniforms, although fear for their lives.

“There are too many terrorists out there, but we don’t care,” said Hussin. “It is our duty and we have to work on that. This is my country. If I don’t fight for it no one will.”

lunes, 12 de diciembre de 2005

Old friends meet again 13 yrs after boot camp

LCpl Cox

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Dec. 12, 2005) -- On Nov. 10, 1992, two young men found themselves standing on the yellow footprints together aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. Now, more than 13 years later they reunited in Iraq for the first time since graduating recruit training.

Staff Sgt. Richard Guichardo and Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory S. Knight completed recruit training in the same platoon, and are both currently serving here.

“We weren’t rack mates, but we were right across from one another,” said Knight, recounting the first days of his career in the Marine Corps.

“We were right in an area no more than two racks away from each other,” Guichardo continued.

After graduating recruit training, Knight and Guichardo attended Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C., at the same time but were in separate platoons. The two went their separate ways after the training, and both have had unique careers since.

Knight, a Bowman, S.C., native, became an administrative clerk and was assigned to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., where he worked in the chaplain’s office on station. After working with the chaplain, Knight decided to become a religious program specialist in the Navy in 1994.

“If I could have stayed in the Marine Corps and done the job as a [religious program specialist], I probably would’ve,” he said.

Knight, 33, spent the next several years at Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss., where he served as an RP and met his wife, who was also serving in the military.

“I met my wife there in Meridian and she was just coming into the service,” he said. “I decided to get out [of the Navy] and become a dependent for a while, and follow her around.”

In 1997, Knight moved to Washington, D.C., with his wife where he worked as an accountant for a company there.

“I’ve had some interesting careers on the civilian side,” he said. “I worked in the space industry.”

Knight said he had the chance to meet a lot of interesting people while working in Washington, including astronauts.

When Knight’s wife was reassigned, they moved to San Antonio, where he worked in the furniture manufacturing business and in the insurance industry.

“I currently work for a major insurance and financial institution there,” he said.

Through the years, Knight has earned a college degree, and in 2004 he came back into the Navy Reserve as an RP to pursue a commission to become an officer.

Today, Knight is serving here with 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, where he supports and assists the chaplain and camp chapel.

Guichardo, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, became a supply clerk after MCT and was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., during his first tour in the Marine Corps.

“After being [at Camp Lejeune] for about three years, I got orders to go to Japan,” he said. “I was there for 16 months.”

Guichardo, 38, received orders to Camp Lejeune again and acquired a new billet rather than a supply position.

“I was an instructor at the Corporal’s Course,” he said. “Then in 1999, I submitted my package for Drill Instructor’s School, and off I went.

“I got off the drill field in January of 2003, and went back to Camp Lejeune,” he said.

Guichardo is currently serving here as an operations chief with Charlie Company, 8th Communication Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Headquarters Group, II MEF (FWD).

Knight and Guichardo didn’t initially recognize each other here.

“We ran into each other in the chapel,” said Guichardo.

“It took us about three times running into one another before we finally figured it out,” said Knight.

According to Knight, he and Guichardo finally made the connection while dining and conversing at the dining facility. They were talking about when and where they attended recruit training, and that’s when everything clicked.

Knight and Guichardo chatted about their former drill instructors and their unique military careers.

“When you go through something like Marine Corps boot camp…it’s something that you do with your buddies and with the people you meet,” said Knight. “You build a lasting friendship with people when you go through experiences like that.”

“I think from here on out, our friendship is stronger,” said Guichardo. “We will probably stay in touch, even if it is just an e-mail.”

“It makes me feel good too,” said Knight. “I am proud of him; I’m glad to see that one of my buddies has made it up to the big time. We’ll have one big party when we get back to Camp Lejeune.”

sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2005

Sunday's grill

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq (Dec. 9, 2005) -- Nothing says “America” like a couple of hamburgers on the grill and a few friends to talk and joke with.

And even though the Marines of Headquarters Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward), are not in America, they often times do their best to recreate a slice of home on the front lines here in Iraq.

Each Sunday the Marines of the company take time to gather for a barbecue – sharing hamburgers, bratwursts, sodas and brotherhood.

For 2nd Lt. Vaughn T. Poe, Headquarters Co. commander, bringing up the morale of his Marines is his first priority and these outings are one of the ways he has learned to do just that.

“Morale is the key,” Poe said. “Our Marines our in direct support of [Regimental Combat Team 8], so our morale is important to keep operations going.”

The change of tempo and atmosphere from the daily routine helps recharge the Marines and ultimately the entire unit, Poe said.

“It’s a definite change of pace,” he said. “Any given day, Monday through Sunday, my Marines are pushed to their limits, so Sunday is a day of relaxation and to boost their morale.”

Depending on what is available, the Marines will grill up a few T-bone steaks, bratwursts or burgers, and it just wouldn’t be a full-blown picnic without rounding up some potato chips and “near-beer,” or non-alcoholic beer.

These cookouts also serve as a team builder by bettering the relationships between the Marines and forging unit cohesion.

“A lot of these guys work together seven days a week,” Poe said. “It builds camaraderie [between] them out by the grill. Eat, have some ‘near beers’ and see there is a method to the madness.”

For the Marines, perhaps the greatest part of these barbecues is the way they serve as a taste, and reminder, of life in the United States.

“They make me think of home,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Landa, a field radio operator with Headquarters Co. “It’s a major morale boost.”

Landa enjoys meeting people from all over the nation and discussing other people’s backgrounds and home towns.

“There are people from Texas, California and all over,” The Allentown, Pa., native said. “I love getting to see and talk with all the different people.”

For most, the relaxation of getting away from work is the biggest benefit.

“Everyone just gets to chill. We throw the football around and talk; we just get to relax,” Landa said. “It’s a good break.”

Even though the Marines cannot be at home, the little morale boost and a bratwurst with some mustard is what keeps them ever-ready to keep up the fight in the global war on terrorism and gives them a small taste of home.

miércoles, 7 de diciembre de 2005

Female Sailor making history in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq(Dec. 7, 2005) -- While serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom here, one sailor temporarily put aside her duties as a religious program specialist to perform another job in Fallujah.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Sarah Radel, 25, was among many female service members assigned to search Iraqi women and children entering the city. However, Radel, who is operating with II Marine Expeditionary Force, Headquarters Group, II MEF (Forward), is the only RP to fulfill the duty for II MHG to date.

According to Radel, the month-long duty was frightening, but an experience she’ll never forget.

“I was kind of apprehensive at first because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen out there. We were always ready, at the ready. I loved every minute of it; it was a new challenge. It was a good time, (and) I wish I could go back out there.

“I think the best thing about working out there was seeing the [children]. Some of the women were just really gracious for [the Marines] being out there,” she said.

The Patton, Pa., native, had a formula to keep herself and her fellow Marines and sailors on the alert at the checkpoints.

“You never overcome the fear,” she said. “The day you overcome your fear is the day you don’t go out there. You have to be ready!”

Radel said she cherishes the time she spent with the Marines while working at the checkpoints.

“The Marines are the best,” she said, with a bright smile. “I’ve had opportunities that no one has had to experience. I had the opportunity to work with some really great Marines out there; grunts. They were really great guys. They were always making sure we were taken care of.”

Before joining the military in 2001, Radel dedicated her life to helping others, something she carried over to her career in the Navy. This holiday season, Radel will be aiding in the chaplain’s office and taking part in several programs aimed to boost morale among the troops.

Radel is the United Through Reading program coordinator aboard Camp Fallujah.

According to Radel, the program gives service members the opportunity to tape themselves reading a book to their children or loved ones. She also helps plan video teleconferences at the camp chapel.

Radel said these programs help link service members deployed here to their families at home. Despite being thousands of miles apart, the video teleconferences allow service members and their families to see each other.

“She puts in a great deal of time and energy into her work, which shows in many of the projects that she is involved in,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory S. Knight, religious program specialist, chaplain’s office, II MHG, II MEF (FWD). “She helps facilitate these programs between here in Camp Fallujah and the rear. These are very important morale boosters for all of our troops, and [the programs] help them connect with their loved ones back home.”

Radel looks forward to sharing her experiences in Iraq with other sailors when she returns to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

She said when she returns to Camp Lejeune, she’ll be able to show shipmates how to properly search a female and how to speak Arabic.

Radel added her deployment to Iraq hasn’t discouraged her but has pushed her to continue a career in the Navy.

“This deployment hasn’t deterred me from what I do,” she said. “This is just a little speck of time to me.”

martes, 6 de diciembre de 2005

Marine working dog saves handler's life

Cpl. Matthew K. Hacker

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (Dec. 6, 2005) -- Imagine you are a military police Marine walking through the streets of Iraq on a routine foot patrol when your squad stumbles upon an unexploded ordinance wedged in a local national’s driveway. You and your military working dog take cover behind a seven-ton truck before the engineer team blows up the ordinance.

Now, imagine taking sniper fire while you’re kneeling next to the truck with your working dog strapped to your chest, trying to see where the shots were coming from.

The wind stings your eyes as you try to focus on anything that looks like a hostile force in the distance, when suddenly your dog jerks you away from the truck just as you get shot in the right shoulder.

Later you find out your furry companion saved your life from a sniper who’s been trained to shoot American service members in the throat between their helmet and flak jacket.

This may sound like an episode of the early 90’s television show “Rin Tin Tin K9 Cop,” but it was reality for Cpl. Justin D. Hamma, a dog handler with 2nd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and his sidekick Chang on Nov. 6.

“Once I heard the shot and dropped to a knee to return fire, the only thing racing through my mind was how far away the buildings in the distance were,” said Hamma. “The next thing I knew, Chang jerked me away from the side of the truck and it felt like someone hit me in the back with a sledgehammer.”

Hamma had been shot in the right shoulder just outside the protection of his flak jacket. He quickly fell to the ground and crawled under the seven-ton with Chang’s help.

“I’m hit and I’m under the truck!” yelled Hamma.

He and Chang shimmied to the front of the truck where they were pulled out and rushed to cover behind a building, according to Hamma.

Two Marines provided primary first aid on-site as an Army Medic with them and a Marine reservist, who was an emergency medical technician in his civilian life, rushed to the scene.

“I could hear they were talking to me, and I remember the sound of their voices, but I can’t remember what they said,” said Hamma.

Another Marine unhooked Chang from Hamma’s vest and attempted to
calm him down, while he was being worked on, according to Hamma.

Luckily, the bullet was a ‘through and through,’ meaning it went straight through him as opposed to the fragments being lodged in his body.

After administering his initial first aid, he was loaded onto an Army track vehicle en route to a Combat Outpost in Al Ramadi, Iraq.

“The staff sergeant – one of the Marines who gave him first aid – rode with me,” said Hamma. “He kept telling me to squeeze his fingers with my hand to make sure I still had movement in my arm.”

After all the experience of being shot and the commotion of getting on the truck, the only thing going through Hamma’s mind at the time was, “Where’s my dog?”

Hamma was seen by the onsite doctors in Ramadi, who revealed he had a broken bone in his humerous and a fractured scapula to go along with the bullet hole through his shoulder. He recovered well, but required additional surgery, so he was flown back to the states the following Friday – Nov. 11.

Three weeks after his injuries, Hamma still wears a machine to help heal his bullet wound, but wears no cast or anything for his shoulder bones.
“I’m healing better than I could have ever imagined after being shot,” said Hamma.

Hamma is very grateful for the care and quick thinking of the Marines who assisted in saving his life, and he’s glad to be back home, but there’s an essential part of his life that is still missing for him.

Chang is still in Iraq and he hasn’t seen him since the shooting, according to Hamma.

“I just want to see Chang so bad,” said Hamma. “If he were here right now, I would tell him I loved him and I would probably start to cry. I owe my life to him.”

Hamma’s command in Iraq is doing everything they can to get Chang back to him by December.

miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2005

All quiet on the flight line

Sgt. James P. Aguilar

AL QAIM, Iraq (Nov. 30, 2005) -- Construction of bases for the Iraqi Army and U.S. military’s long-term security presence is steadily progressing in Husaybah, Karabilah and Ubaydi. Simultaneously, Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines continue patrolling to ensure insurgents do not return. These patrols also involve detailed searches, looking for hidden weapons caches and deadly improvised explosive devices. Approximately 120 bombs and mines have been located over the course of Operation Steel Curtain.

Three aspects of the operation which makes Steel Curtain different from previous operations in the Western Euphrates River Valley are increased Iraqi Army participation, immediate establishment of long-term security presence, and Iraqi Army soldiers taking the lead in security and care of the citizens temporarily displaced by the operation.

Approximately 1,000 Iraqi Army soldiers took part in Operation Steel Curtain. During Operation Romhe (Spear), conducted in this same area last June, fewer than 100 Iraqi soldiers took part.

Today, more than 15,000 Iraqi Army soldiers are stationed in Al Anbar province and recently locally-recruited soldiers are joining and operating with Iraqi Army units and U.S. forces. The Desert Protectors, recruited from the Al Qa’im region, fought alongside Iraqi Army soldiers and Coalition forces in Operation Steel Curtain.

lunes, 28 de noviembre de 2005

Female Marines guarding the gates of Fallujah

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -(Nov 28 2005)- Walking or driving into the city of Fallujah is no longer a simple process for Iraqi civilians because of constant attacks that previously ravaged the city.

Now with guards posted at all times, vehicle and personnel searches, the city is much safer, however, if a bomb were to be strapped to a female Iraqi it would go unnoticed. This is not the case anymore.

Female Marines from various units within Combat Logistics Brigade-8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, stand at the gates of Fallujah to ensure the city remains safe by checking female Iraqis for dangerous materials.

Iraqi Soldiers also work the border alongside the U.S. service members; however, it is against their morals for males to search females so female Marines stand post to ensure that no person goes unchecked.

“We conduct searches on all women entering Fallujah,” said Lance Cpl. Joyce N. Fundweburk, a supply warehouseman with CLB-8, 2nd MLG. “You never know who could be carrying anything potentially dangerous.”

The Marines, chosen at random from within CLB-8, stand post from sunrise to sunset at one of three entrances that surround the city. Whether female Iraqis enter walking or traveling in a vehicle, they are searched the same as everyone else.

To ensure that there are no incidents around the gate entrances, Marines with 2nd Marine Division stand post 24-hours everyday and search every vehicle entering. All people traveling in a vehicle are sent through a walking checkpoint that is run by the female Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

“It is a safe post to have,” said Lance Cpl. Riki M. Aguirre, a field radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company, CLB-8, 2nd MLG. “Although it can get boring at times, it is nice to get out of the office for awhile.”

Working in two shifts with four Marines, they search hundreds of Iraqi women daily. Searching purses and a physical check of the individuals, the Marines are searching for weapons, anything suspicious and also ensuring Iraqis turn their cell phones off before crossing the border.

“The signal from the phone could trigger a planted bomb,” said Lance Cpl. Genevieve R. Kocourek, a combat engineer with Company A., 7th Engineer Support Battalion, CLB-8, 2nd MLG.

“I don’t know what will happen once [the Iraqi government] doesn’t need us here anymore,” Kocourek said. “There are no female Iraqi soldiers, so if we are not here there will be no one to conduct the searches on females entering the city.”

Until U.S. involvement is no longer needed at the gates here, the city stands a better chance against potential future attacks because of the female Marine search teams, according to Fundweburk.

“You never know if the next female you search could have a bomb strapped to her,” Fundweburk said. “But because we are here the city is much safer.”