BAGHDAD, Iraq – Symbolic of the blood – both of fallen fighters and slain foes – that has been shed in the fight for freedom and democracy, the words “fighting the insurgency for a secure and stable Iraq” were written in a dripping red font on a poster affixed to one of the auditorium’s pale white walls.
Inside, a group of Iraqi special operations forces soldiers were officially decorated with the highly-respected Commando patch during a ceremony held on an Iraqi military compound in Baghdad, July 1.
Following the June 30, target date for U.S. forces to pull out of the cities, the elite group of Soldiers earned the right to wear the patch, an honor often equated to the U.S. Army’s esteemed Ranger tab, during a physically and mentally demanding 47-day training cycle.
With an audience of more than 600 people, the ceremony was initiated by the singing of the Iraqi national anthem.
“Members of the Special Forces are not like any other men,” said Iraqi 1st Lt. Ali from behind a wooden podium. “In their hearts is an unyielding light and in their steps is a fierce fire.”
The officer-in-charge of the training stated that the five key stages in becoming a commando are pressure management, lectures on strategy and procedures, tactical shooting, fast-roping in and out of helicopters, and the mastering of operational assaults.
“We want to apply pressure to see how they will react to high-stress situations,” said Iraqi Sgt. Maj. Ahmad, one of the lead instructors. “The management of that stress brings a Soldier’s character to the surface.”
“Bottom-line: We want to see how much they can take,” he declared.
During the arsenal phase, Ahmad said the commando recruits broke down various weapons to their simplest form and were trained to put the intricate pieces back together. And naturally, he added, they learned to skillfully fire those weapons during marksmanship instruction.
During the ceremony, a Soldier in the Iraqi honor guard passed a flag to another signifying the transfer of the 34th Commando class to next. Afterward the ISOF Taekwondo team performed in honor of the newly-marked commandos, kicking wooden boards into splinters and breaking sheets of rock into mere pebbles.
“You will be the sword against the insurgency, an insurgency that despises us because of our love for our country,” the Counter Terrorism Command’s Maj. Gen. Abdul Ghani, the guest speaker for the event, reminded the graduates.
The ISOF Brigade’s charismatic commander Maj. Gen. Fadhel Barwari positioned a commando patch on the class leaders. In addition to the patch, each of the graduates also received a certificate and, as often seen in traditional ceremonies, gifts from the high-ranking Iraqi commanders in attendance.
It is a time where the million-dollar question remains heavy on the minds of many in relation to the deadline for American forces to withdraw out of the cities. According to an instructor, this class of elite Soldiers is an essential part of the answer to that question.
“It’s an incredible feeling you cannot even explain playing a hand in preparing a Soldier to fight terrorism,” Ahmad said. “It is a good feeling, thank God. Today we produce a force that is capable of hitting the insurgency with a massive blow.
“We reached a point where they are graduating, a point where a new generation of Soldiers are stepping up to fight.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the patriotism of the Soldiers echoed throughout the auditorium. “Victorious you are Baghdad,” the commandos rhythmically chanted with an overwhelming sense of pride.