Soldiers develop strong bonds with counterparts
March 10, 2010
- "Sledgehammer" Soldiers in southern Iraq continue to advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces in Najaf
- "We are very capable of not only taking care of our people, but our American friends," said one Iraqi commander
Iraq's security forces are in the lead, dedicated to and invested in the ongoing stability of their nation and ensuring the security of their U.S. partners, but the fewer U.S. troops still in the country assisting the Iraqi forces still have an essential job to do.
For the Soldiers of Company C, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, assisting their Iraqi security partners doesn't mean less work on their part.
Despite not being in the lead of security operations, Co. C is still playing a vital role in Najaf, home to one of the most holy shrines of the Shi'a faith, said their commander, Capt. Neil Penttila.
Prior to the March 7, 2010, elections, he outlined the role his Soldiers would play in assisting civilian elements, such as the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
"We will have liaisons throughout our area of operations during the upcoming elections, we will be escorting U.N. and PRT officials to the polling sites, sharing any of our assets with our Iraqi partners, and planning on doing more joint patrols to counter the IED [improvised explosive device] threat" said Penttila. "We are still working hard, even if we aren't always out front."
For Penttila, working with his Iraqi partners means more than just waiting by the phone for a call for help. It means meeting with them before there's an emergency and understanding what support U.S. forces can provide to keep the Iraqi forces from needing help.
"Personal relationships are the deciding factor in making things happen here," said Penttila. "When you can establish a rapport with a respected leader, a lot of roadblocks disappear and you can get things done."
Penttila has seen first-hand that a business-like approach isn't always the best way to accomplish your mission when dealing with Iraqi leaders.
"A lot of leaders come in with a set of canned answers and expect things to go a certain way," he said. "I've found that absolute directness isn't always the best way."
In response, Penttila has adjusted his approach and has seen positive results.
"I have often found that friendly conversations over a cup of tea yield more results than mutable, formal Key Leader Engagements," he said. "It reaches the point, where you get the answers you are looking for from them without even having to ask."
Penttila and Co. C have also had the advantage of working with other units who have developed a relationship with the Iraqi's prior to their arrival.
"Our [Military Transition Team] and [Stability Transition Team] have been great assets and set us up for success," he said.
Maj. Stefan Lockton, team chief for the 30th MiTT, has worked with the 30th Iraqi Army Div. since June, and has been impressed with their professionalism and open-mindedness towards their U.S. counterparts.
"They are an extremely capable fighting force," he said. "They have been working to secure Najaf longer than we have. Our main effort has been to provide them with better training in areas like medical training and humvee maintenance."
Lt. Col. Salah, commander of the 3rd Bn., 30th IA Div., spoke highly of the assistance given.
"American forces provided us with excellent training," he said. "My unit was the first unit to be given M-16 rifles from the Americans. It was something we were all very proud of. They have been invaluable in helping with our operations and our training."
Salah also takes great pride in providing security for his U.S. partners.
"We work very hard to secure the roads and make sure the routes are safe," he said. "We are very capable of not only taking care of our people, but our American friends."
Lockton and Penttila appreciate the concern and support.
"They take a lot of pride in keeping us safe," said Lockton. "It is funny how the tables have turned from a few years ago, but they take our well-being very seriously. They view us as their guest in their country and get very upset if any of our Soldiers are hurt."
Penttila said he looks forward to working with his counterparts and further developing their excellent friendship.
"I consider it a peer-to-peer relationship," he said. "We are not working with an inferior force. I give Lt. Col. Salah the same amount of respect I would an American lieutenant colonel. It is a military courtesy he has earned."
With that mutual respect and trust in one another, both forces hope to continue working to ensure the citizens of Najaf are safe.