KIRKUK, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 19, 2007) - The transformation from civilian life to military life is similar, regardless of the country a soldier serves. For new Iraqi recruits it begins with the issuing of uniforms, a rifle, an introduction to military rules and intricate details of how to make a bunk and organize a locker.
After six weeks of basic training the new jondis, or Iraqi soldiers, graduate to join the Iraqi army's swelling ranks as it emerges as a self-sufficient force.
The Regional Training Center in Kirkuk has 1,800 to 2,000 Iraqi soldiers cycling through basic training at a time. This number is up from 1,500 because of Iraqi and U.S. plans to add 30,000 new Iraqi soldiers by mid-2007. The center will train about 8,000 of those new recruits.
The recruits who train at the center come from the northern region of Iraq and as far south as Tikrit. With the help of the Coalition Military Assistance Transition Team (CMATT), the training center's staff and cadre have transformed basic training here into a standardized program for the new Iraqi army.
When the CMATT came here seven months ago, the center was a small school with limited resources, almost no funding, a staff one-third the size it is now and a maximum of only 700 soldiers in training, said 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Morris, CMATT noncommissioned officer in charge.
"Now you wouldn't even recognize this place from six or seven months ago," Morris said. "The Iraqis have come so far. I think they have really learned how to be flexible. They're dedicated to their mission so they make it happen."
The CMATT is a four-soldier U.S. military transition team that works with the Regional Training Center as advisors and mentors. Their primary goal has been to standardize the quality of training here and throughout all the basic training bases in Iraq.
A basic training program of instruction (POI) at one training base used to mean something entirely different at another base, said Morris, who has 10 years of basic training experience as a drill sergeant and first sergeant at Fort Jackson, S.C.
"So a POI has been standardized throughout all the training bases in Iraq now," Morris said. "All of the instructors have gone through the same training and the schools teach the same subjects the same amount of hours. I think that's going to be the main key to success for these soldiers."
The training curriculum has also improved and is similar to basic combat training in the U.S.
The program is built to instill the values of the Iraqi Army, "to protect his country and to serve his people," into its trainees, said Iraqi Command Sgt. Maj. Mubrad Sarheed Abed, RTC command sergeant major.
The program includes an hour of physical training daily, drill and ceremony, map reading, combatives, military customs and courtesies, Iraq history and military history. Medical training and tactical maneuvers currently being used by the Iraqi army have been added.
Every hour of each day is accounted for in the new POI, which is a major change from the RTC's previous schedule that was non-descriptive and had no specific times or standards, Morris said.
"They literally were making up things from past experience to be able to teach a class," Morris said. "And now they're in a classroom with projectors, computers and PowerPoint presentations in Arabic. They do AARs (after action reviews) and training briefs everyday. The transformation has been unbelievable, beyond our expectations."
Bursts of bullets can be heard much more frequently on the RTC's firing ranges as trainees are now able to spend more time getting familiar with their AK-47 rifles.
Previously, trainees fired only four rounds in a month to get the feel of their AK-47. Now trainees may fire 48 rounds in a day as they go through the steps of zeroing the rifle, adjusting the rifle's sights to their personal use, and qualifying from distances of 50, 100 and 200 meters.
A few months ago, most Iraqi army units didn't have the tool or know how to zero their rifles, Morris said. "Now the jondis can go out to their units and show them how to zero their weapons."
In addition to basic soldier skills, trainees are also taught how to work and better interact with Iraqi civilians.
"So if an Iraqi army soldier is on a mission in a village," Morris said, "they know how to deal with civilians and be respectful to them."
As the Iraqi army moves forward as a self-sufficient force, it's important that it be respected by the Iraqi people, he said.
The Regional Training Center's command sergeant major said he is proud of how the Iraqi Army has made taking care of its soldiers a priority.
"The old army was built on many bad things including torture and unfair treatment of soldiers" Abed said. "The food was bad and the training and equipment was poor. Now you can see a big difference because there is respect and we treat soldiers as human beings."
The basic training transformation has armed the jondis with better skills and has made them more well-rounded soldiers.
"I know that the jondis that graduate from basic training here are learning things that no other Iraqi soldier has had a chance to learn," Morris said. "Officers and NCOs here have even told us that, 'When I was in basic training, I didn't know any of this stuff.' Things that the cadre are learning to teach as instructors were never taught to them as basic trainees.
"They're graduating soldiers now that are some of the best Iraqi soldiers that have ever been. Those soldiers are going out to their units and bringing the new information and training."