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Iraqis Train Iraqis at Tikrit Academy

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

TIKRIT, Iraq, March 14, 2005 – The scene would have been unremarkable at any training base in the U.S. military: A group was learning squad tactics, and drill sergeants were standing by correcting them as needed.

What made it remarkable was they were Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi drill sergeants. What's more, they were doing it in Saddam Hussein's hometown as part of the new Iraqi army's 4th Division.

The Iraqi drill sergeants learned their craft from the best in the world. U.S. drill sergeants "trained the trainers" as part of the 4th Iraqi Army Division Training Academy. U.S. Army Maj. Donald E. McArdle, a member of the 42nd Infantry Division from the New York National Guard, is the academy's commandant. But as with every other job here, he has an Iraqi counterpart. Iraqi army Lt. Col. Shaker Faris is McArdle's opposite number, and he is working to take away the major's job.

The effort is important. Iraqis must provide security for their own country, and Iraqis are increasingly stepping forward to serve a free and democratic nation, military officials here said.

Twenty-five American trainers are at the academy, which offers three courses. The first is a four-week basic training effort. The second is a two-week primary leadership development course for noncommissioned officers. The third is a basic combat survival course for Iraqi police.

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Tom Brown was specifically chosen for the job of running the basic and PLDC courses. Basic training for Iraqi troops molds them into soldiers. They then join the 25 Iraqi battalions around the north-central provinces. There they receive on-the-job training by going out on operations and learning from partner U.S. units.

The most promising Iraqi soldiers come back to the academy for the PLDC. "Privates are awful rough when they arrive," Brown said. "But you'd be surprised how much they learn in four weeks.

"The NCOs are good," he continued. "And that's remarkable, because they never really had an NCO corps in the old Iraqi army."

And the training is working, McArdle said. "In many areas, the Iraqis are in the lead and we are in support," the major said. "And we do the same here. The Iraqi drill sergeants are in the lead. They do the hands-on training and they do the corrections. If U.S. drill sergeants spot something wrong, they tell their Iraqi counterparts."

With each group that comes through, the Iraqi drill sergeants are getting better, said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Ropon, a drill sergeant with the 95th Training Division based at San Antonio. "I never have to say anything twice," he noted.

The academy is building even as training goes on. The recruits live in large tents, but a two-story barracks is going up. And while the academy has ranges now, students will soon be able to learn military operations skills in an urban-terrain training site.

The academy has room for 350 trainees at any one time, and the soldiers are going through the process constantly. "They train, they partner, they learn and they fight," McArdle said. "They are doing a good job."

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