AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- Convoying troops and supplies throughout Iraq while facing improvised explosive devices, enemy ambushes and rough roads is something that the U.S. military has been doing for three years. Now, this knowledge is being passed on to the fledgling Iraqi army.
At this remote air base in northwestern Iraq, more than 120 soldiers from the Iraqi 8th Motor Transport Regiment are getting region-specific and refresher training from Marines here to prepare them for convoy operations in the dangerous Al Anbar Province.
This recent training evolution is complimenting training the Iraqi soldiers already received from a U.S. Army Military Transition Team in the Numinayah area, southeast of Baghdad. The Marines are helping them learn the ins and outs of driving in the rural, desert terrain common in this area of Iraq, different from the urban landscape of central Iraq.
Motor transportation specialists with the Marines' Combat Logistics Battalion - 7 are helping their Iraqi counterparts overcome these challenges.
"A lot of the training they had already received was good; they had the basic concept of what we taught them, we just went into a little more detail with them and helped them out that much more," said Cpl. Kristopher K. Larson, a 21-year-old Longmont, Colo. native and convoy operations instructor.
The Marines are teaching the Iraqi students skills necessary to keep the Iraqis alive as they navigate across the most restive province in Iraq.
Some of the subjects being covered in the month-long training include roles and responsibilities of the vehicle crewmembers, vehicle spacing during travel, threat awareness from possible ambushes or roadside bombs and machinegun employment.
"Once we get the Iraqi army able to sustain themselves, it gives us the end goal of getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq. We're here to help them get on their feet and help them stop the violence," said 2nd Lt. John F. Jedra, motor transport platoon commander with CLB-7's Transportation Company, and Marine liaison to the Army MiTT.
The officers and senior enlisted of the Iraqi unit share Jedra's sentiments.
"I knew it was too dangerous to join the army again, but who will protect us if we just hide ourselves from the insurgents? We are ready to die for this country," said Sgt. Maj. Ali Waheed, 4th Company sergeant major and former warrant officer during Hussein's regime.
The fact that the Iraqis are fighting in a territory far from their own home has not deterred them.
"We have come up here to defend this country, although we live in the south, we defend all of Iraq," said Capt. Abdul Al Raziq. "We can't feel the difference in where we go to fight; we do it for all of Iraq."
Although the junior enlisted troops have been receptive to the training, it took the Marines time to adjust to teaching them just as it took time to build a rapport with the privates, known as jundis.
It's all about building relationships with them; you have to understand that they are trying to take back their country just like we are trying to help them do that, said Lance Cpl. Tracy D. Doud, a 20-year-old Robbins, N.C. native.
"Once they started to trust us a little more they started to pick up on everything that we were telling them and pay attention a lot more," said Larson.
Aside from the training itself, another unorthodox push within the Iraqi army has been to prepare future enlisted leaders to sustain their fledgling military.
In the former regime, officers were the primary decision makers and troop handlers, said Jedra, a L'Anse, Mich. native.
"God willing this will be a good chance for the younger soldiers to become good leaders. It is a good chance for them now to lead, said Abdul.
One example of this leadership building was the convoy from Numinaya to Al Asad as they moved north for their current training cycle. A non-commissioned officer led the 215 mile convoy.
After 4th Company's training is complete and the soldiers have spearheaded a few convoys with the Marines taking a supporting role, the soldiers will move on to independent operations transporting troops and supplies to forward operating bases.
As for the Marines, they will prepare for another company and begin the cycle again.