By 1st Lt. Daniel JohnsonSeptember 2, 2016
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Strike, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), took charge of a ranger training program for qualified volunteers from Iraqi security forces at Camp Taji, Iraq, when they arrived in May.
The ranger training program, led by Company A, 1-502nd, is one of the multiple building partner capacity missions the 1,800-member strong task force leads in Iraq.
"This program is important because it lays the foundation for an elite Iraqi unit," said Capt. Peter Jacob, commander of Company A. "Students start at day one as an individual and come away at the end of this course as part of a team."
The course is based on the U.S. Army's Ranger training program established in 1951 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The goal of the program is simple: engage selected Iraqi army officers and enlisted personnel in a realistic training environment to develop advanced warfighting skills.
In addition to borrowing from ranger training, Company A trainers also sampled aspects from other advanced programs, including a 21-day selection process similar that of special forces, which narrows down the number of trainees.
"The selection process weeds out those who do not have the intestinal fortitude to stay and fight," explained 2nd Lt. Gregg Bernthal, a platoon leader in Company A. "The separation from normal, basic soldiers is the rigorous selection process they go through to become Iraqi Rangers."
The exhaustive selection process is just the beginning. Candidates then must proceed through many subsequent levels of training, involving exercises that test not just their physical fitness, but also their memory and intellect.
"Even if they make it through all of the physical and intellectual challenges, they still have to participate in a selection board at the end of selection," said Bernthal.
The selection board reviews the students' performance throughout the class and a panel of U.S. and Iraqi officials ultimately determine the eligibility of the candidate.
After selection is complete students move on to advanced individual training (AIT), said Bernthal. In AIT, the students refine their skills in classes led by their trainers. To pass exercises like the rifle qualification range, they must meet U.S. Army standards.
"[AIT] is a program that begins the training from basic rifle marksmanship all the way to a culminating event," said Jacob. "The culminating event includes live-fire exercises as teams, squads, and platoons."
With AIT under their belts, ranger students are split into specialty training, which includes advanced marksmanship, sniper training, medical training, and heavy weapons training. After specialty training they return to their units.
As the Iraqi Security Forces continue the push to retake territory from the Islamic State group, efforts like those of Company A to build partner capacity are increasingly important.
"Having well-trained leaders is going to be extremely important in the fight. Because Da'esh has been dug in for so long now, the Iraqis are going to have to think on their toes," said Bernthal.
"There's going to be a lot of different situations that they find themselves in. Good training is always something that the Iraqi soldiers in this course will be able to fall back on."