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Combat training to combat troops: how advisors are changing the landscape of war


Combat Training Iraq

IRAQ — U.S. Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Sailors with Task Force Al-Taqaddum come together with one common mission – advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces of the Anbar Operations Command.

“Even though we are not from the same unit and we don’t have history together, we are going to come together with a common mission and work on it to the best of our ability because others are depending on us,” said Col. Christian Cabaniss, the commanding officer of TFTQ.

Each branch plays its part in the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve’s advise and assist mission. However, while attempting to live up to reputations of the Marines who came before them, the Marines from the I and II Marine Expeditionary Forces, currently serving in Iraq, leave their footprints in the Marine Corps’ rich history through their significant actions.

“The reputation that the Marine Corps has today – today’s Marines did not earn,” said Cabaniss. “It was built by those generations of Marines who won the great battles of our Corps’ history. We are capable of great things because we stand upon the shoulders of giants.”

While serving as the security force of TFTQ, the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, attached from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command, were responsible for providing security and manning the quick reaction force. More importantly, these individuals aided the advise and assist mission as instructors while training with the ISF.

While 3/7 Marines supported TFTQ, they improved range facilities in order to warrant more effective training between themselves and Coalition forces.

They constructed a live rocket battle drill range, where Marines and other military personnel now have the capability to employ rockets, while previously only being able to fire the AT4, an 84-mm unguided, portable, single-shot recoilless smoothbore weapon. Furthermore, a live hand fragmentation grenade range was completed, providing more high explosive training to the ISF.

“It was good to see the young team leaders and squad leaders really start to understand how introduction of a high explosive into a gunfight affects you or the enemy,” said Gunnery Sgt. Phillip Blackwell, the company gunnery sergeant of Lima Company. “If you do it and leverage it the correct way, you see what it can do for the higher headquarters and their perspective of the battlefield.”

As the Marines of Lima Company returned to the U.S., the Marines of Animal Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, attached from the SPMAGTF, assumed the tasks of their counterparts.

While Lima Company focused on squad and platoon level tactics with the ISF, the Marines of Animal Company are preparing to take on battalion-level training.

Mobile training teams with Task Group Taji, alongside service members with TFTQ, provide operationally relevant training to the ISF through various periods of instruction. A typical two-week course is broken into two portions:  one week of urban training and one week of marksmanship. Other courses provided to the ISF include advanced marksmanship, combat lifesaver, and explosive hazard awareness training.

“We have a whole menu of courses that the Iraqis can pick from and the courses come in all shapes and sizes,” said Maj. David Palacio, the Fires and Effects Coordinator of TFTQ. “It has been extremely beneficial to the Iraqis to be able to conduct this training here at what is basically their home base.”

When the personnel with TFTQ and Task Group Taji first inherited the training mission, there had only been one or two evolutions of training conducted – that of which served as two parallel efforts. Palacio stated that since then, his team has deeply integrated with Task Group Taji.

“We tie in everywhere that we can – in the gym, the chow hall, the field, and back here in the office,” said Palacio. “It’s a really good partnership that we have going.”

Today’s fight is unlike those previous where Marine battalions were spread across the area of operations. Now, the Marines are largely confined to military establishments in support of the Iraqis.

Therefore, the peace in Iraq is ultimately in the hands of the Iraqi soldiers.

With more than 800 Iraqi soldiers trained, the personnel with TFTQ and Task Group Taji hope that their partner forces will utilize the skills they have gained in the future fight and continue training while in their positions.

“It’s not just a matter of how many individuals that we can graduate,” said Palacio. “The measure of effectiveness will be how well the forces we train do in those final fights against Da’esh – hopefully to finish off ISIS once and for all.”

Three Marines with Firepower Control Team M Detachment, 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, SPMAGTF-CR-CC, provided forward observer training to artillery and infantry officers with the 1st, 8th and 10th Iraqi Army Divisions. The progressive two-week course consisted of classroom instruction, which transitioned to observation positions where they used computer simulators to practice adjusting fires and employing proper communications procedures. In the final days of the course, the Iraqi observers called in live 155mm artillery fire missions supported by the 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. By utilizing the Iraqi Call for Fire, rather than the U.S. Call for Fire, the Iraqi soldiers became more proficient in their own techniques.

A second course was conducted for the Iraqi noncommissioned officers from the same Iraqi divisions.

“The two sergeants and one corporal from Firepower Control Team M(-) were able to have an immediate impact on Iraqi Security Force personnel that may employ the new proficiency against ISIS elements in the near term,” said Palacio.

The presence of SPMAGTF-CR-CC is seen across TFTQ and nearly a dozen Marines support daily operations in various sections of TFTQ in addition to Animal Company, 1/7.

Palacio stated that without SPMAGTF-CR-CC’s support and the help from U.S. Soldiers and Airmen, the Task Force could not function.

“We have Marines from California and North Carolina that are shoulder-to-shoulder with soldiers from New Zealand and Australia. If you point us all in the right direction, we will always try to do our best,” said Palacio.

Deploying U.S. Marines into the USCENTCOM area of responsibility to conduct combined military training with our partner nations’ security forces strengthens our vital relationships with partners in this strategically important region.

By Cpl. Shellie Hall

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