Spc. Lee Elder, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KIRKUSH, Iraq – Close-crop haircuts, standing in long lines and having sergeants watch your every move are typical of most Soldiers’ first day in the Army.
It was the same for nearly 150 newly inducted Soldiers with the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Initial Training Battalion at Kirkush Military Training Base as they began their military careers on a sweltering, 120-degree Saturday morning. They are beginning five weeks of initial training that will be followed by more vocational-related training before they take their places in Iraq’s fledgling Army.
For now, though, these new Soldiers learn to march. They are led by a sergeant who calls cadence and makes quick, on-the-spot corrections to those who don’t conform to the expected standard.
“Today, we are spending the time on military drills,” said Chief Sgt. Maj. Akram, with the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Training Battalion. “We are preparing for the first day of training. “The first day, they will take lessons on the code of military conduct and some other preparatory lessons for the basic combat training. Today is all marching.”
More pay and better living conditions are drawing more young men into the Army, Akram said. Plus, the new Army is helping preserve Iraq’s newfound democracy.
“Most of the Soldiers have the desire to join the Army because they are getting good pay and they can have a good future,” Akram said. “They can support themselves and their families.”
Starting Soldier pay is about $300 a month. It’s a far cry from the privates, called “jundei,” made in the old Army. “Some Soldiers have paid bribes to a recruiting center just to enlist,” Akram said. “The Army is not like before, they can get good pay.”
Most young Iraqi men have little difficulty adjusting to Army life. Most are grateful for the opportunity.
“We don’t face real problems turning those civilians into Soldiers,” Akram said. “We have some problems with older civilians.
“It’s difficult for older civilians to be fit for the military and the military exercises.”
The new recruits are trained under the watchful eye of Coalition advisors here. Among them are a handful of Soldiers from Down Under with the Australian Army Training Team-Iraq.
“We come and work within the battalions for the Iraqis,” Warrant Officer 2 Barry Conroy said. “Principally, we are here to advise the staff on how they go about conducting the training the Soldiers participate in over the period of time that they take courses.”
Conroy said the initial basic combat training lasts five weeks. Soldiers then get a week off before being trained as infantrymen, medics or administrative clerks.
For now, though, lunch is over and the new Soldiers get their uniforms. The Iraqi noncommissioned officers march their charges to the KMTB Central Issue Facility. Here, Soldiers are fitted with uniforms, boots, and caps and are issued the first of their military gear like a pistol belt and canteen.
The sergeants lead their soldiers into the large warehouse facility where Soldiers take their place in line. NCOs serve a duel purpose here. Besides getting Soldiers through the lines quickly, they have to make sure that the gear they select fits them. Getting the right boot size is particularly important due to the amount of marching that new Soldiers do during their basic combat training. The challenge is heightened because many of the new Soldiers have never worn socks before coming to KMTB.
Conroy is there watching. He points out a Soldier whose boots don’t appear to fit him well and makes sure his sergeant corrects the problem.
The line moves on. Soldiers leave the facility with a net bag jammed full of boots, uniforms and military equipment.
Joining the Army in the middle of a nationwide battle against insurgents means that many will be on the front lines in the global war on terror within a few weeks. It will require much more of them besides getting used to a new wardrobe.
“The biggest challenge that they have is the fear that the soldiers have of being known to be Soldiers,” Conroy said. “The other one is obviously the change in culture: becoming an Army person as opposed to being a civilian.”
In his role, Conroy said he and fellow countrymen do a lot of “crisis management.” However, he stressed that their aim is to help Iraqi Army members help themselves.
“We try and advise as best we can on the way the admin chain is running,” Conroy said. “We try to try to help guide them so they can make decisions that will help them run their unit.”
A 19-year Army veteran, Conroy hails from Townsville, Queensland, Australia. He is an infantryman by trade who serves the same role as a unit sergeant major in his Army.
“It’s very different from what we do back home,” Conroy said of his role here. “It’s quite interesting to participate in the training of a unit in a different unit and different environment.”
The Australians here are at the midway point in their six-month tour. They meet regularly with their Iraqi Army counterparts and give them feedback on the training they have seen.
“We can sort of sit back and oversee the type of training they do and how they go about all of their processes and how they inject themselves as staff,” Conroy said. “More or less, it’s something we can observe instead of be involved in the last half of our tour.”