HABBANIYAH, Iraq --
The Iraqi Army added more than 2,100 to its ranks during a graduation ceremony here May 28.
"It makes me so proud that these large numbers of Soldiers come through here to serve their country and its people against terrorism,” said Iraqi Army Col. Namir Dawod, commander of Habbaniyah Regional Training Center.
These numbers have increased dramatically since 2006, when Marine Col. Joel P. Garland deployed to Camp Habbaniyah as the Basic Combat Training liaison officer for Multi-National Force – West. An average class had 400 to 600 recruits.
Fast-forward less than two years and the number of graduates has nearly quadrupled, exceeding Garland’s goal of 1,850 recruits.
The six-week, BCT course teaches weapon safety and marksmanship. Physical exercise and drill also help introduce the recruits to their new military lifestyles, said Staff Sgt. Jason A. Byron, operations chief for the Advanced Infantry Training Center, Multi-National Force – West.
Their training isn’t finished after graduation. Units nominate some of their best Soldiers for advanced courses, sending them back to Habbaniyah for the Iraqi Small Arms Weapons Instructor Course, Iraqi Highway Patrol Course and the Iraqi Officer Small Unit Leader Course, to name a few.
Byron said the follow-on curriculum is fairly advanced and designed with a “train the trainer” mentality. The goal is for Iraqi Soldiers to help instruct peers after returning to their units, but everyone has to first learn the fundamentals, and BCT is all about the basics.
The recruits normally arrive in Habbaniyah about 10 days before the course begins. They undergo extensive background checks administered by both Iraqi and American officials before they begin training, Byron said.
The training is led by enlisted Iraqi Soldiers, experienced non-commissioned officers, who receive minimal assistance from non-Iraqi personnel.
“We’re here in an advisory status … They’re training all the classes,” said Byron, 39, from Chattanooga, Tenn. “We’ve been turning it over to (the Iraqi Army NCOs) as much as possible.”
The hands-off approach of BCT advisors mirrors that of the big picture. Provincial Iraqi Control is underway in nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Iraqi Soldiers and police have taken over security responsibilities while American and coalition forces take a backseat.
Adding more than 2,000 Soldiers to the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army Divisions, which operate mainly in the Anbar province, is another step to establishing PIC in the region.
“They came to serve their country, they came to protect their country, and they keep coming,” said Iraqi Army 2nd Lt. Ahmed Abed Alaa, a former graduate of the course. “Look now in places like Ramadi … you see big improvements wherever these guys go.”
The next course is scheduled to begin in mid-June, and Iraqi officials expect another large turnout.
“We’ll have about 2,500 (recruits) on deck,” Dawod said. “This was one of the largest courses we’ve had. Hopefully the progress continues.”