Iraqi soldiers meet Marines, gain insight on supporting their army

7 Mar 2006 | 1st Lt. Robert E. Shuford 1st Marine Logistics Group

Throughout war fighting history, the difference between victory and defeat has often been a military force’s ability to provide supplies needed to sustain troops in battle.

The military might of the Roman Empire was based on the fact that they not only understood tactics, but also understood the intricacies of providing logistical support to their troops spread across three continents. 

Many military officials believe that the new Iraqi Army will have to be successful at keeping their troops supplied and their gear maintained, independent of U.S. assistance, to be successful at winning the fight against determined terrorists and bring stability to their country.

The U.S. military has taken an increasing role in training and mentoring Iraqi soldiers with the goal of creating a successful Iraqi military that not only fights on its own, but can also provide all the logistical support it needs to sustain itself.

U.S. Marines in Iraq’s Al Anbar province have been tasked to provide training teams and advisors, called Military Transition Teams, or MiTTs, to train and mentor Iraqi Army units in western Iraq. Their mission - give the Iraqis the military skills needed to fight terrorists who plague this province and allow the eventual draw down of U.S. troops in Iraq.

This mission is a step the Marines believe will put the Iraqi Army and the country on the path to success. A big part of this success will depend on how well the Iraqi Army can support itself logistically.

Currently, the Iraqi Army does not have a national industrial base for support like the U.S. has for its military, said Col. Juan Ayala, the senior MiTT advisor to the 1st Iraqi Army Division.

Ayala is responsible for 17 transition teams, consisting of Marines and soldiers from a variety of job fields, who are embedded with Iraqi units in dangerous cities like Fallujah, Habbaniya and Ramadi.  Recent appraisal by top U.S. military commanders in Iraq and attention in the media has put Iraqi Security Forces in the limelight for taking the fight to the terrorists, but Ayala and his advisors know that long-term success is going to take more than learning how to kill the enemy.

“They have proven that they can fight, the tough part is teaching them to be able to sustain themselves after we leave,” said Ayala, who served as the chief of staff of the 1st Marine Logistics Group prior to deploying to Iraq.

Ayala has made sure his teams are taking the initiative in teaching the Iraqis the art of providing logistical support to a military force. 

In a recent meeting at Camp Taqaddum, home of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), Marine logistics officers met with their Iraqi logistics counterparts with the intent of giving the Iraqis some insight on how the Marines are able to support an effective fighting force spread over an area the size of South Carolina.

With nearly 29,000 Marines and sailors currently deployed in western Iraq, the 1st MLG is one example for the Iraqi officers to get an up-close view of how big of an undertaking it is to support so many troops.

“The 1st MLG has proven its mettle as this is the third time for many in that organization to deploy to combat. This is something the Iraqis know and will want to emulate,” said Ayala.

The 1st MLG is responsible for providing combat support to Marines throughout western Iraq by performing a variety of jobs, such as receiving and distributing supplies, maintenance and repair of equipment and providing medical services.

The type of logistics support the Marines give their troops is similar to what the 1st Iraqi Army Division will have to provide for their approximately 10,000 soldiers to be successful down the road, said Ayala.

“We wish to have successful logistics operations like the Marines,” said Lt. Col. Waleed Yousif, logistics officer for the 3rd Brigade of the Iraqi Army’s 1st Division, who attended the meeting with two fellow Iraqi Army logistics officers and an Iraqi major who served as a translator during the visit.

This was Yousif and his fellow officers’ first visit to Camp Taqaddum, which is about a 10-minute drive from where they are stationed in Habbaniyah.

Marine Capt. Jon Bonar, the senior advisor for combat service support for the 1st Iraqi Division MiTT, was the driving force behind the meeting between the Marines and Iraqis. Bonar coordinated with the 1st MLG’s G4 section, whose job is ensuring the force has all the parts, supplies and infrastructure it needs to accomplish any mission.

Bonar said that this initial meeting was just to give a broad overview of what Marine logistics officers have to do to keep a large force running.

“I want them to have an idea of how things are run on a bigger scale, not just down at the smaller unit level,” said Bonar, who will be advising Iraqis about combat service support for the next year.

Yousif and his partners listened intently as their Marine counterparts gave a presentation about some of the core functions of logistics, which included supply, maintenance, food services, and ammunition distribution.

The Iraqis then toured the logistics operations center with their Marine counterparts and were briefed on computer systems the Marines use to track the millions of pounds of supplies being shipped in and around Iraq.

The Iraqi forces have some computer programs to help track supply distribution but not to the extent the Marines do, said Yousif.

The Iraqis may not have the technology the Marines have, but they are superb record keepers, said Ayala.

“They (Iraqi soldiers) hand write everything and keep volumes of logbooks,” he added.

An operating principal of the Marine Corps that resonated with the Iraqi visitors was the key role the enlisted Marines played in keeping things running smoothly.  As the Iraqis visited different work sections they met both the officer in charge and the senior enlisted Marine in each section.

Col. Robert Danko, the logistics officer for the 1st MLG and host of the visit, explained that a strong relationship between the officers and their senior enlisted is an integral part of Marine Corps operations, a concept the Iraqis realized needed to be implemented in their own force.

“We definitely need more courses for our enlisted,” said Yousif, who served in Saddam’s military and understands the importance of providing good support for his troops. “We did not have good support or services for our Army under Saddam. We often did not get the things we needed to be effective.”

Currently many of the services and logistics support for the Iraqi army are done through contracts.  Learning the ins and outs of contracting has been a frustrating learning process for Yousif and his fellow soldiers, which was evident as Yousif told Marines about the poor state of his dining facility and that the contractor was not doing much about it.

Contracts are treated differently here than in the states, said Ayala.  .

“In our country, the signing of a contract is a legally binding document. Here, the signing of a contract is often just the beginning of negotiations,” he said.

Contracting is just one facet the Marines hope to help Iraqis with in regards to supporting their fledgling Army.

MiTTs with the 1st Iraqi Army Division have been assisting Iraqi units with building their personnel and equipment databases, advising them on procurement, storage and distribution of supplies and have been teaching them how to plan for future needs in case of contingencies, said Ayala.

Learning how to support and sustain Iraqi soldiers is something Yousif understands and appreciates.

“Logistics is the backbone of an army.  It provides the support.  We don’t want our back to be broken,” said Yousif.

Both the Marines and Iraqis were happy to meet each other and plan on making such visits a regular occurrence.

“It’s important for them (Iraqi soldiers) to understand the processes behind supplying individual troops,” said Danko.  “Their logistics capability will be different than the Marines’, but they can learn from us and apply what they learn to their own operations.”

Both parties agreed that taking lessons from the Marines on how to sustain a military will allow the Iraqi Army to continue progressing to operating independently.

“We are too reliant on the U.S. right now and by learning about logistics from the Marines we can break ourselves from this,” said Yousif.

“This is really the bigger picture – teaching and mentoring our Iraqi counterparts so they can operate on their own,” said Danko.
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