Photo Credit: SGT Chad Menegay (USF-I DCG A&T PAO)
As the Iraq Army prepares to field four regiments of M1A1 Abrams tanks, with 140 tanks and eight M98 Recovery vehicles purchased from the United States, it must ensure there are enough Iraqi Soldiers who are properly trained to maintain this new equipment. A first step in this direction is to put Iraqi Army Soldiers through the Unit Maintenance New Equipment Training course. On Aug. 10, 18 Eighteen Iraqi Army Soldiers graduated from this course Forward Operating Base Hammer, Iraq. The 63-day course is a mirror of the U.S. Army's M1 Abrams Tank System Maintainer course that U.S. Soldiers go through in the United States. "The thing that the Iraqi Soldiers like the most about this training is the modern way that the U.S. instructors interact with the students," said Iraqi Army Maj. Ali Yasein, a UMNET graduate and Iraqi Army Electrical and Mechanical Engineering school instructor. The instruction is a combination of classroom and hands-on work. Students break down the engine and are trained and tested on each system of the vehicle. "We are very proud of this group of Soldiers," Ali said, "especially because the majority of them have previous experience with the Russian tanks, and now they have experience on the M1A1 tanks." The Iraqi Army is preparing to maintain 140 M1A1 tanks, as 11 of 140 M1A1 tanks arrived at FOB Hammer Aug. 12 in accordance with a foreign military sales agreement of 140 M1A1 tanks between the U.S. and Iraq. The remaining 129 tanks are scheduled to arrive in increments over the next year. "It is a pleasure to receive new equipment, but we have to always think of how to maintain it," said Iraqi Army Col. Abbas Fadhil Sahib, commander at the Besmaya Combat Training Center, Iraq. "As we say, the noncommissioned officers are the backbone of the Army, and maintenance is the backbone of tanks and all equipment." Ali said the M1A1 is a very advanced technology and will play a very key role big role in the Iraqi Army. "The M1A1 Abrams is the biggest, baddest beast on the range," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Beachman, senior advisor with Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-Army at FOB Hammer, and a native of Somers, N.Y. "But it cannot do its job, if it is not out there on the range due to maintenance issues. It is through the system maintainers' hands that the tank is going to be able to do its mission, which is saving lives." Beachman said he likes to look at the M1 tank as a lion. "The lion hunts all night and then lies in the shade during the day, confident in knowing that it's the baddest thing out there and nothing is going to attack it," Beachman said. Abbas noted that without the M1A1 system maintenance Soldiers, the tanks have no value. "When tankers go out and do missions in the future, they have to feel that there are some people in the rear to provide the maintenance necessary to keep their tanks running," Abbas said. "The system maintainers are the ones that will make us feel safe."