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Old Iraqi Air Base Morphs Into Triple Training Facility

By Elaine Eliah
American Forces Press Service

KUT, Iraq, Dec. 9, 2005 – With its 9,800-foot runway, one of Saddam Hussein's premier air bases was in Kut, Iraq, near the Tigris River midway between Baghdad and Kuwait. Today, the coalition defense team has commandeered the base's strategic position.

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The Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence contracted with ECC International a year ago to build an Iraqi police cadet academy at Kut, Iraq. Photo courtesy of ECC International

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The U.S. Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence contracted with ECC International a year ago to build an Iraqi police cadet academy at Kut. With Iraq's training needs critical to the U.S. mission's eventual completion, the site has morphed into a triple training facility. Recruits for the Department of Border Enforcement have now begun training at Kut, as have officers and noncommissioned officers with the Iraqi army.

It has been a year of international teamwork for U.S. and Ukraine coalition troops, as well as for the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team, known as CMATT, and its paramilitary counterpart for police training, CPATT.

Even before the academies began training activities, the Ukrainian military, responsible for the Kut base and the entire Wassit province since August 2003, had its own program in which 1,500 Iraqi border enforcement troops and 2,355 soldiers from three infantry battalions received training. These Iraqi troops will assume responsibility for the Ukrainian area of operation, which includes 22 forts along 142 kilometers of the Iran/Iraq border, 60 kilometers to the east.

Since the police academy opened -- it's the first completed section of the Kut regional safety facilities -- CPATT has helped prepare the more than 1,200 cadets who are assuming responsibility for safety in Iraq's cities and towns. U.S. police officers rarely see combat situations that their Iraqi colleagues face daily on the job, and instruction has included military-style training.

Meanwhile, CMATT is training Iraqi army NCOs. U.S. Army National Guardsman Lt. Col. Alfred Abbondanza and his staff of drill sergeants have reached beyond combat and leadership basics to instill the NCO creed of ethical service and responsibility.

The fast-paced training year called for comparable fast-track construction. Housing and classroom demands more than doubled from the original contract planning for 765 police cadets and 50 instructors. Buildings were occasionally handed over the day before classes started.

When one tight deadline culminated in a ribbon-cutting dedication, "I was totally surprised," admitted stakeholder Abbondanza. "I'm not used to it. When they turned on the electricity to the rooms, everything worked, fans turned, lights came on."

At least momentarily, one man was able to relax. ECCI project manager Victor Johnson had rushed to plaster and paint the first floor of one building in time for a new class, only to have a second-floor work crew punch holes through the walls. That, he learned, is the customary Iraqi building technique to anchor their not-quite-freestanding scaffolding.

Trying on the patience, to be sure, but it allowed Johnson to take part in his own base training program. "One thing I like about the job is that I become a teacher -- roll up your sleeves and show them," he said. When he noticed door painters making a mess of adjacent, freshly painted walls, he found an old license plate and taught them how its edge could help paint straight lines.

"The hardest thing was to become an ambassador to each of these subcontractors and all their laborers," Johnson said. "A work force of 600 can drop down to 200 in a single day because of threats (against them)."

"You need to put your heads together and find a way to get it done," superintendent Pete Stocker reminded ECCI's Iraqi engineers. "I've got stakeholders who want to take possession of this building."

Abbondanza not only took possession, but also charged right into his next battle: his new group of NCO cadets. Learning to take a house or clear a street will prepare the future Iraqi squad leaders to lead soldiers through urban terrain fighting missions. They will also spend eight days at the firing range and four days in first-aid training.

"Saddam Hussein's officers would never give any authority," explained Abbondanza. "Those who were too incompetent got shot; those who were too good became a threat and ended up in jail. We want the NCOs to be able to make the decisions." Though he admits that many Iraqi NCOs have difficulty adjusting to the rigors of discipline and physical fitness training, some already are qualified members of the training team that will take over after coalition forces leave.

The CMATT team offers two training programs for medics: a five-week medical course that teaches advanced lifesaving techniques, and a four-day combat lifesaving course. "If we can apply a tourniquet and start an IV," said Abbondanza, "we can keep him alive."

The Ukrainians, meanwhile, have completed basic training and have moved on to training Iraqi officers who will serve as headquarters staff.

"They're learning how to plan better and to conduct operations independently," explained Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Sergei Goroshnikov, commander of the 81st Tactical Group. "We plan to certify the headquarters staff to assume responsibility for Wassit province by the end of 2005." With the border fort responsibilities already handed over to the Iraqi border team, he said, "it looks like we'll be home for Christmas."

The AFCEE building project is getting its finishing touches, and ECCI will hand over all facilities and leave Kut by the holidays. They will leave behind training triplets that have already graduated nearly 4,000 Iraqi police, border patrol and army cadets.

(Elaine Eliah is a communications specialist with ECC International Baghdad.)

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