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Training Takes Center Stage in Iraq

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2009 – Training is at the forefront of the new U.S. advisory role in Iraq, and that includes educating both Iraqis and Americans on everything from cultural awareness to flight skills, military officials say.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry’s Ministerial Training and Development Center held its first cultural awareness course July 26 under the direction of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq – known as MNSTC-I -- for those in the command who are not Iraqi advisors.

The center opened in 2007 as a partnership school with Iraqi instructors and U.S. advisors, and hosts a two-day course for new coalition advisors to give them the confidence and essential skills they need to be effective, officials said. The one-day class July 26 was designed to fulfill a key element of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement that calls for strategic partnerships in fields such as culture.

"This course is designed specifically for people at MNSTC-I who aren't assigned to advisor positions, but who nevertheless want to learn more about the culture and history of Iraq," said Air Force Lt. Col. Sandra Kolb, chief of the training and development branch of the training and advisory mission at the Iraqi Defense Ministry. "We feel that if you are serving in Iraq with MNSTC-I, you should have the opportunity to receive some formal instruction in its culture and history, and from teachers who are Iraqi."

The center’s superintendent agreed. "I think that Americans want to learn Iraqi culture and history from Iraqis, as opposed to other Americans," Cassidy Craft said. Kolb noted that end-of-course surveys for the two-day advisor course reveal that some attendees enroll just to get the cultural and historical sections of that class, even though they did not really need to take the full advisor course.

The class opened with a lesson in Iraq’s basic geography, including a look at each province’s unique features. A section on the notable rulers of Iraq and the Iraqi mindset took a look at past leaders from Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar II to Saddam Hussein.

"In the class on notable rulers of Iraq, the instructor asked us who our heroes are," said Army Maj. Patrick Swan, a MNSTC-I staff officer who took the class. "Upon reflection, I nominate the instructors themselves. At great risk to their own security, they teach at the MTDC. These instructors do this despite the threats to their lives from terrorists who want the Iraq republic to fail. These instructors do this for the benefit of Iraqi students who will be a future generation of Iraqi leaders in the various ministries. "

The Arabic language-and-phrases section allowed students to engage in basic dialogue and introduced some common Iraqi slang phrases.

The topic of marriage and family allowed students to see the process of an engagement and marriage in Iraqi Islamic society. One instructor brought first-hand experience to the subject by sharing that he was going through the lengthy marriage process.

The marriage and family sections and the lessons on gender issues in Iraq brought the greatest exchange of ideas between students and instructors, who did not shy away from inquiring about the sensitive subjects of the cultural differences between the West and the Islamic culture of Iraq.

Iraqis receive similar instruction on American culture, with classes such as "The Role of Religion in the West," which recently began at the center to give the Iraqis a better understanding of how religion affects Western culture. Chaplains from all over Iraq came to share in the introduction of Western religion to the class participants.

Army Chaplain (Maj.) William Steen, a MNSTC-I chaplain, began the discussion by telling the group that religion will always be a part of the Western culture. "And because of the many different religions in the Western culture, we have to respect the different religious beliefs and practices of others," he said. "Different faiths come together to share a common goal -- human beings caring for human beings."

Meanwhile, skills-based training continues in Iraq.

Pilots of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, have found an equalizer in the challenges of flying the AH-64 Apache Longbow in the Apache Longbow Crew Trainer - a highly realistic simulator used for individual and multi-ship operations.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steve Donahue, battalion master gunner and standardization instruction pilot, said the simulator is one of the brigade’s most important pieces of equipment. With it, he can familiarize pilots new to the combat zone on sudden weather changes, possible equipment failure and unexpected combat situations, all within the safety of the base.

"The simulator helps pilots prioritize required tasks while engaging targets in a fluid environment," Donahue said. "I can watch how they maintain the safety of the aircraft and crew and do everything they need to do.”

Inside the cool darkness of the simulator, housed in a container near the Contingency Operating Base Speicher flightline, conditions are preset. The pilot sits at the controls in front of three large screens where the scenario is played out. Time can be stopped, backed up and replayed. Fuel and ammunition can be in abundance or short supply.

The simulator is a stepping stone for new aviators when they first come to Iraq, Donahue explained.

"We can give an aviator unlimited amounts of fuel and ammunition and targets,” he said. “We can freeze time without slowing range time or risking crew or equipment while they are in the learning stage."

Army Capt. Jeremy Duff, commander of the 1-10th ARB’s Headquarters Company, agreed, saying that although nothing can simulate real combat and how an aircraft will handle taking combat damage, the ability to pause in flight and run the same situation over and over can increase a pilot's skills tremendously before going into action.

"In the beginning, you can see pilots get frustrated as they handle emergencies, and then, as they get more proficient, they become more comfortable with themselves and what to do,” Duff said. “That's where you get the learning benefit. How many people know themselves well enough to know what they need to work on? They may not be aware of their shortcomings."

The key is 20/20 hindsight. During pauses, pilots and trainers can talk about what could have been done differently and how to proceed for the rest of the mission.

"We can run the same mission again," Donahue said, "and practice emergency procedures, gunning and tactical employment. For instance, we've helped crews make a dramatic improvement in the amount of time it takes to complete the task of putting missiles on target through repetition."

The trainer also is used to prepare pilots for a change of stations and includes scenarios for Fort Rucker, Ala.; the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.; the Army's Combat Support Training Center at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif.; and Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea and Kosovo.

(Compiled from Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq and Multinational Division North news releases.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Force Iraq
Multinational Corps Iraq
Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq


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