BAGHDAD - A wing within the Iraqi Armor School at Camp Taji is not training its officers how to shoot or move. Its focus instead is on teaching them how to communicate.
The communications wing at the Iraqi Armor School offers an Officers Basic Communications Course which teaches proper tactical radio communications. The class is not a requirement, but a familiarization course.
"I find it unique to see an armor school which has a branch that deals strictly with communication, and is interested in training those officers for communication," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Bill Hanley, senior advisor to the Iraqi Armor School and a native of Cathedral City, Calif.
Obviously, the key to success on the battlefield is quality communications, Hanley said.
"It's important for these officers, who are brand new to the army, to get as much training as possible ... but more so they can be prepared to take that next step for commo," Hanley said.
Practical instruction includes operation of the American Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, as well as the Russian 123 and the Chinese 889 radios. The officers use radios inside and outside of a vehicle and learn how to build communications stations.
The Iraqi Army is in a period of transition, Hanley said.
"We're providing the Iraqi Army all different types of new equipment," Hanley said. "They have to be able to make the jump from their Eastern-bloc provided communications equipment to the Western equipment, which is what they're doing; they're training on SINCGARS. Also, they're going to need to focus on making the jump to digitized communications."
The instructors that teach the American SINCGARS radios have been through formal signal school classes, said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Estevan Castillo, senior enlisted advisor to the Iraqi Armor School, and a native of San Juan, Texas.
The instructors at the communications wing are Iraqi Army officers and noncommissioned officers. They are knowledgeable and teach well, Castillo said. They teach based upon experience.
"To be a Soldier and instructor at the same time, when you give your knowledge to the students you try to do your best so you can feel relieved, because you might teach a future instructor who will take your place," said Iraqi Army Lt. Col. Muyad Muhssen, the Iraqi Armor School's communications wing commander.
These officers have no background in communications, Muhssen said. "It's up to them to learn all of this information to defend our country against terrorism in the future."
This course qualifies these officers to go back to their units and teach their Soldiers tactical radio operations.
"We're showing them the types of radios and equipment we use," Castillo said. "Technology is evolving, and they've got to evolve right along with it. They're starting to get all of these M1A1 (Abrams) tanks and in those tanks are SINCGARS radios, so they have to start learning how to put those radios in operation."
A SINCGARS radio is more complex than the knobs and dials of older radios; it's all digitized, Castillo said.
"We try to influence the Iraqi Army to understand that in order to become more proficient, they need to take into consideration what everyone else has to offer, whether it's us, the Brits, or any other NATO country that's here offering them assistance," Castillo said. "We're building that partnership."
Editor's note: 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.