Graduation Means All 27 Iraqi Battalions Now Operational
By Sgt. Lorie Jewell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KIRKUSH, Iraq, March 21, 2005 With the graduation of nearly 1,500 soldiers at the Kirkush Military Training Base on March 20, all 27 battalions of nine brigades in the new Iraqi army are now operational.
Almost 1,500 newly trained Iraqi soldiers graduated from the Kirkush Military Training Base March 20. Photo by Sgt. Lorie Jewell, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Graduations last week at Numaniyah sent more than 3,000 new soldiers to units throughout Iraq, officials said, and next week, another 600 soldiers are expected to graduate from the Iraqi Training Battalion - adding roughly 5,000 new soldiers to the Iraqi army ranks.
The graduated soldiers are with the 13th, 14th and 15th battalions of the 5th Brigade, 3rd Division. They took an oath to protect their country, remain proficient in their soldiering skills, and obey the orders of their superiors during the graduation ceremony, the culmination of almost three months of training in basic soldiering skills at the base.
"Training is an essential tool to a combat soldier," said Iraqi Gen. Am Jad, deputy chief of staff for training for the Iraqi army, in addressing the soldiers. "Be sure to carry everything you have learned here onto the battlefield."
Am Jad urged the soldiers to be "defenders of the defenseless." He also called the graduation, and the completion of the force generation that began last summer, a new turning point for Iraq's army. He thanked the U.S. and coalition forces that make up a base support unit at KMTB for their help in training the soldiers.
"We will be the light to lighten the darkness in this country," Col. Sabre, 2nd Regiment commander, told the soldiers. "We will protect the integrity of this country."
Sabre also thanked the base support unit, the Ministry of Defense, and the people of Iraq "for their belief in this army." He said the soldiers will protect them from terrorism.
"But understand, this will take time and patience until we eradicate those who are against us," Sabre said. "The strength of our belief will guide us through the threat of terrorism, and we will work side by side, force by force, to protect our country."
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Charles Marchione, an adviser with the base support unit, said there was a marked improvement in the soldiers from when they arrived at the base as new recruits. The biggest strides, he said, have come as a result of developing a strong corps of noncommissioned officers. In the old Iraqi army, NCOs had no more authority than the most basic level soldier, he said.
"Now, we have the NCOs working more with the troops, taking care of their soldiers," Marchione said. "So they've made big improvements, but a lot of it is from having leadership."
Marchione said he is confident enough with the soldiers he helped train to go into a fight with them. His greatest fear in going to battle - whether with Iraqi or U.S. troops - is not knowing the people he's fighting with. He doesn't have that fear with the soldiers he watched graduate.
"We have the camaraderie," Marchione said. "That's what's been built here."
The soldiers were released for a short period of leave after the ceremony. Many of them were planning to travel for as much as 10 hours to see their families. Their spirits were high, though.
"I'm very happy," said one soldier, through an interpreter. "I'm ready to go to the fight. I will fight terrorists not just here, but all through the world."
Some were soldiers in the old Iraq army. They said the difference from then and now is like "blue and white." Now, they are trained to be defenders. They believe they have more technical skills as well, and credit U.S. soldiers who trained them.
A few soldiers also offered thanks and praise to President Bush.
"We like Mr. Bush," one soldier said. "He saved us from the former regime."
(Army Sgt. Lorie Jewell is assigned to Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.)