MOSUL, IRAQ: While Iraqi and Coalition forces make the deadly headlines with battles against al Qaeda and its insurgent allies here in Mosul, the day-to-day life in the city often goes unnoticed. In eastern Mosul, the city is still alive despite the occasional roadside bomb and suicide and car bombings. The markets remain open. The streets are packed with people. Electricity and running water exist in much of the eastern half of the city. Children continue to go to school. Construction is ongoing. There are even sanitation workers that pick up trash in some areas.
In Mosul, the Iraqi Army also lives a dual existence. As the Iraqi Army conducts operations to dismantle the terror networks in the city, it also builds for the future. The 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division seeks to expand its ranks while developing its noncommissioned officers, the backbone of any modern military. This is a difficult task to manage while fighting a brutal insurgency, but a necessary one as a professional army is required to successfully fight an insurgency.
To achieve these goals, the 4th Brigade has recruited its own soldiers, started an in-house training program, and plans to conduct its own training course for its noncommissioned officers.
The 4th Brigade has signed up more than 600 recruits and is waiting to put them through basic training. Brigadier General Noor Aldeen personally recruited these soldiers and wanted to put them through the brigade’s own training course, but the Ministry of Defense denied the request. The US advisers of the Military Transition Team suggested the recruits go through the Army’s training course, as they would be issued weapons and a uniform, as well as receive more advanced training.
But slots in the Army’s basic training course are hard to come by as the course is filled. While the 4th Brigade conducted their recruiting drive months ago, the recruits are still waiting to make it to the training course. To keep the recruits from remaining idle, the 4th Brigade designed a three-week training course to prepare the future soldiers for basic training. The recruits were brought to Forward Operating Base Lion, issued a uniform and boots, and assigned to units for their pre-basic training. The brigade pays for the uniforms, boots, and the salaries for the recruits.
The recruits are trained in marching, drill and ceremony, and basic weapons handling and maintenance. These are the same skills taught to US soldiers during their first week of basic training, said Master Sergeant Tony Reese, the adviser to the 4th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Army Division’s sergeant major. “They get in a lot of PT (physical training)” to harden them for their upcoming basic training course, said Reese. The US advisers often conduct PT with the Iraqi soldiers, Reese said. “We’ll call cadence and they eat it up.”
The recruits start physical training at 7 AM, break for breakfast than train up until 7 or 8 PM. “If they won’t go to sleep, the sergeants will take them back outside,” Reese said. The shouts of the recruits responding to orders barked from their instructors can be heard at all hours of the night here at Forward Operating Base Lion.
The recruits are split up into platoons of about 20. Each platoon has a sergeant, and one recruit is designated as a platoon leader to march the troops and also develop his leadership skills. A sergeant major is assigned to drill each platoon. “They have come a long way for recruits,” said the 4th Brigade’s Sergeant Major Neajrvan, the senior noncommissioned officer for the brigade who also trains one of the platoons.
Neajrvan is a serious, professional soldier with five years of experience in working directly with US forces. He has attended a course to develop his skills as a sergeant major, and has received training from Special Forces teams and the Military Transition Team advisers. This is knowledge he hopes to pass on this new trainees. “Our goal is to teach them discipline and to respect the officers and NCOs,” he said. “When they get to their units they will be soldiers. I teach everything I have learned from the US advisers to my soldiers. I will train my soldiers until they will be like me, know what I know.”
Neajrvan has plans to expand the battalion-level training from the recruits to the unit’s professional soldiers. “After the new recruits head to basic training, we’ll open a course for our NCOs to develop their skills,” he said as the trainees march in the background.
The noncommissioned officer is the backbone of the modern army, and their development is critical to the long term success of the Iraqi military. In Saddam Hussein’s Army, noncommissioned officers had little responsibility, and all of the direction flowed from officers, who often did little to develop or care for their soldiers.
Evidence the NCOs are beginning to assert themselves can be seen at Forward Operating Base Lion. The battalions are now making their troops conduct “police call” – picking the trash that litters the base. The battalions and companies are becoming more competitive as the NCOs begin to assert themselves. “Our NCOs are beginning to step up,” said Neajrvan. These are the fundamentals that make a professional soldier and a professional military, said Reese.
The US advisers hope the pre-basic course and the future NCO course will transition the Iraqi Army from a group of fighters to a professional military. “I have no doubt these guys are fighters,” said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Price, the leader of the 4th Brigade’s Military Transition Team. “They will fight. They are brave. They run to the sound of gunfire. They aren’t good soldiers yet, but they are slowing becoming good soldiers.”