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Why We Serve: Marine Says Iraqis Appreciate U.S. Military

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2007 – A Marine who served two tours in Iraq, and is now speaking in American communities about his experiences, said that today’s Iraqi Army soldiers prefer their current system to life in Saddam Hussein’s military.

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U.S. Marine 1st Lt. Matthew H. Hilton. Defense Dept. hoto by Gerry J. Gilmore
  

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

“It wasn’t the same structure that we have,” Marine 1st Lt. Matthew H. Hilton, 28, said of the old Iraqi military. Hilton served as the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance company advisor to the 7th Iraqi Army Division, among other duties, during his tours in Iraq.

In the old Iraqi army, soldiers, NCOs and officers were treated as servants and were often forced to perform degrading tasks for superiors, Hilton noted. It’s therefore understandable, he said, that today’s Iraqi troops favor the American military’s more democratic system.

Hilton is among a group of eight servicemembers possessing duty experience in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa who have been selected to tell their stories to the American people at community, business, veterans’ and other gatherings as part of the Defense Department’s “Why We Serve” public outreach program.

The “Why We Serve” program, initially the idea of Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, began last fall, noted Air Force Maj. Ann N. Biggers, the program’s director. Eight military members, two from each service, are selected to participate in the program, which is conducted in quarterly segments, she explained.

“We know that the American public is hungry to hear about what these young men and women have been doing,” Biggers said. “It’s important for our speakers, as well, because they are out there serving their country and they want to be able to tell their stories.”

Military service is a Hilton family tradition, the Fairfax, Va., native said. After graduating from George Mason University, also in Fairfax, in 2002, Hilton obtained his commission through the Marine Corps Officers’ Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. Hilton is now assigned to Camp Pendleton, Calif.

In Iraq, Hilton taught basic combat patrol techniques and other military skills to Iraqi army officers, noncommissioned officers, and junior enlisted soldiers assigned to the Iraqi army’s 7th Division. Many Iraqi servicemembers had prior experience in Saddam’s military, he noted, and thereby learned rapidly.

The Iraqis quickly warmed to the U.S. military’s egalitarian system, Hilton said, where mutual respect of all servicemembers regardless of rank is employed up and down the chain of command.

“They like the overall camaraderie, trust and confidence” evinced by U.S. servicemembers of all ranks, Hilton said.

The Marine lieutenant performed other duties during his 2004-2005 and 2006 tours in Iraq. He conducted cordon-and-knock and combat patrols alongside Iraqi troops to find weapons caches from Ramadi to al Qaim along the Euphrates River Valley and also trained up a platoon of Iraqi military police.

“They know what they’re doing. They’re smart people,” Hilton said of his Iraqi military counterparts.

The Iraqi army is getting better every day, but it needs to work on its supply and command-and-control systems, Hilton noted.

“The logistical piece to the Iraqi army is the difficult part,” he said. “That was one of our main (training) efforts.”

Hilton said he was determined to personally “connect” with and learn more about his Iraqi hosts.

“I remembered a lot of their names and I’d stop and talk,” Hilton recalled, noting he’d developed good relationships with several Iraqis. An Iraqi battalion commander was so fond of Hilton that he bestowed the young Marine with a friendly nickname.

“The Iraqi people are great people,” Hilton said. “They’re very hospitable people, and I think the American people don’t get a chance to see the warm, inviting culture that they have, that I was able to experience.”

For general questions about the “Why We Serve” program, call Maj. Ann Biggers at (703) 695-3845.

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