It's 'Black Seven' up for the Iraqi Army; now that's refreshing
October 6, 2010
BAGHDAD -- "Black Seven" is a problem solver.
He wakes before zero-dark-thirty every morning. He drives across the street from his Containerized Housing Unit to the Iraqi Army training site. He talks with the Iraqis and is neighborly in his approach. He jokes; he listens to problems and offers advice. Sometimes he stays into the black night for chai.
It's a unique job, but for him it's routine.
"Black Seven," the radio call sign for the M1A1 tank combat advisor with the Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Army at the Besmaya Combat Training Center, Iraq, works to improve efficiency at the BCTC and to develop a professional and competent ground defense force.
His job is perhaps one of the most critical in the American-Iraqi partnership, in that the focus of Operation New Dawn is on training and advising, and in that the Iraqi Army M1A1 Abrams tank program is perhaps Iraq's most essential piece in its fight to maintain security against external threats.
Staff Sgt. Randy Christenson, the outgoing "Black Seven," and a native of Dupont, Wash., downplays his importance in Iraq, but admits he is part of something big.
"I'm involved in the program for the main deterrent of the Iraqi Army for Iraq," Christenson said. "I'm a little slice of that pie. I know that when I get older and when I leave here, I'm going to reflect on this and be very happy that I was part of this. I was hoping to do something that's constructive, that had an impact, and that's what I got. I lucked out."
The incoming 'Black Seven,' Staff Sgt. James Jaramillo, a native of Santa Fe, N.M., volunteered to work for ITAM-Army as an advisor and echoes the sentiment that his job is a privilege.
"I'm able to engage and get out and meet the Iraqi people, see the people that we are helping to train," Jaramillo said.
"These last few days I've learned how to talk to them, how to engage them on problems," Jaramillo said on the training he's received from Christenson.
Christenson is a good teacher and has good leadership skills, Jaramillo said.
"Especially talking to the Iraqi Army, he has a friendship with them and has a good demeanor that works well with the Iraqi people," Jaramillo said.
Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Abdul Jabbar Raheem Diwan, the senior M1A1 cadre officer and commander of the West Wing Baghdad Armor School, said Christenson has a very strong personality, but also showcases objectivity.
"In his meetings with me, he's asked a lot of questions to get a better understanding of the most common issues that students face during training," Jabbar said. "I give what I think is the best solution, he listens, and when he thinks it's a good idea, he takes it to his superiors."
The role of the U.S. advisor is to transfer his experience to the Iraqi Army, doing his best to provide the Iraqi Army with the best information on technology, Jabbar said.
"The advisors have been so helpful, and the Iraqi Army Soldiers all have a lot of appreciation for the advisors," Jabbar said, "because without them the training that we've been having would not be reaching the level of near perfection that it has."
A lot of Iraqis look up to American Soldiers, Jaramillo said.
"They do want to learn from us," he said. "They're really engaged when they're in class or in training."
Trying to develop his counterparts, so that they can become good noncommissioned officers and officers is challenging, Christenson said. The most effective method for him is to lead by example.
"I feel like I've made a difference in my time here," Christenson said. "Because what I've tried to portray was a noncommissioned officer that was easy to get along with; that knew what he was doing; that could be serious when needed; and that was more than willing to joke around with these guys at any time of the day. My personal mission here was to do my job and leave an impression on these guys that 'hey, there are some good Americans.' I wasn't going to shrug them off. I wanted them to have a positive outlook on Americans."
Christenson is doing his best and "spending a lot of effort to fix issues, and if he cannot fix it himself, he will talk to his superiors to get an answer and a fix," Jabbar said. "Always, he gets the confirmation that the training is going well for the students, and that they are not having any issues. I can depend on my advisor whenever an issue arises during the training to help fix it."
Often, to solve a problem, "Black Seven" has gone beyond the job description in his role as an advisor. Christenson has advised Iraqis "on everything," including personal issues like what to do when a child is sick back home. He said he helps them come up with options.
"The 'Black Seven' job is a very time consuming job, because you are being asked to work with the Iraqi cadre, the civilian instructors and your command," Christenson said. "I think it's one of the more difficult positions here. You have to be patient, organized and be able to multi-task. You have to pay attention to details and stay diligent. Be there; make sure you're present, persistent and consistent."
One thing in particular that Christenson has helped the Iraqis in the M1A1 training program with is formations.
"That's the foundation of discipline, form these guys up, start them from the very beginning, dress right dress," he said. "It establishes the standard right off the bat, because if you just allow those guys to show up and they're gaggled, that sends a different message than if you put them in a formation. Now they know there's no doubt in their mind, 'I'm here to train.'"
Working to get the Iraqis to be consistent is ongoing, Christenson said. But he's seen improvement. He's noticed that students and cadre are more often on time and noncommissioned officers are staying on top of their Soldiers and correcting them on the spot more.
"That's huge," Christenson said, "that's one of our number-one goals, to empower the noncommissioned officers."
Christenson worries about the M1A1 tank program, as the U.S. withdraws its presence and the Iraqi Army takes over.
"They can be successful, if they sustain what we've given them as far as training, as long as they stay focused on becoming experts on the number-one deterrent for the Iraqi Army, which is the M1A1," he said. "I told them 'don't waste all this training you've received.' They understand, and say that they're going to continue."
In the meantime, "Black Seven" will continue to mentor Iraqis and work to develop a professional and competent ground force.
As for Jaramillo, he plans to look the part.
"I just like to let Soldiers see how I am, even Iraqi Army officers can look at a U.S. Soldier, and say 'he's high speed, he's up to date,'" Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo looks forward to Iraqis coming to him with problems, and he doesn't mind waking up before 3:30 a.m. each morning either.
<b>Editor's note:</b> <i>Menegay is a member of the Ohio Army National Guard's 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.</i>