AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – It’s no secret that the roads and highways of Iraq were once considered some of the most dangerous roads on Earth. Threats facing travelers, both Coalition and Iraqi, ranged from insurgent attacks to tire-exploding and axle-cracking potholes.
Though it is true that the security situation in Iraq’s Al Anbar province has improved dramatically over the past few years, and new construction is making Iraqi roads better a mile at a time, the Commando Battalion of the 7th Iraqi Army Division is taking no chances. Under a bright desert sun, American instructors with Military Transition Team 7 recently worked with the commandos to ensure they can navigate their national highway system in a safe and responsible manner.
It may seem odd to some that the month-long commando course includes a day devoted to vehicle safety, maintenance and operation, but it is part of a continuing effort to improve the overall capability of the 7th IA Division’s elite soldiers.
“We’re training these guys on pretty much everything they need for operations outside the wire,” said Robert L. Wise, a special operations foreign internal defense specialist working for MiTT-7. “We’re teaching them anything and everything from how to change a tire to proper convoy techniques.”
The lessons went further than simple classroom instruction. The bulk of the vehicle familiarization training was hands-on, giving the Iraqi soldiers the chance to demonstrate their skills. The commandos practiced changing tires and making simple roadside repairs, and learned more serious skills like switching out drivers while on the move in case a soldier is wounded and how to drive without the use of a gas or brake pedal.
“It’s good that we train like this with the Americans,” said Iraqi Army Pfc. Muhammed Omar Salim, commenting that many of the skills they are learning are also taught to Marines before they deploy. “The Americans have experience we can use.”
As part of the course, the Iraqis also learned the proper way to react when faced with an ambush, including weapons techniques and vehicle positioning.
“We’re giving them the best training we can give to be effective in combating the insurgency,” said Wise. “With these tactics and procedures, there’s very little the enemy can throw at them that they wouldn’t be prepared to deal with.”
The commando unit’s officers are also taking on a different role, increasing their participation and ensuring all of the troops under their command understand the fundamentals of what they are doing and that they do their parts to the best of their ability.
“The officers are definitely starting to show a lot more participation,” added Wise.
Throughout the training, their leaders took the time to walk over and ensure each team knew exactly what they were doing and why.
“This is a different kind of driving,” said Salim, as he drove one of his unit’s vehicles down the road, steadily picking up speed. “But I think we’re ready for it.”
After yelling the signal, Salim let go of the wheel and slumped backward. Instantly, another soldier grabbed the clutch and steering wheel to control the speeding vehicle and brought it to a safe and screeching halt.
It was a perfectly executed, textbook maneuver that demonstrated the Iraqi soldiers’ grasp of the subject, a knowledge that may one day save their lives and those of others. With the vehicle training under their belt, the Iraqi commandos moved on to other topics to make them more well-rounded soldiers capable of securing their own country.