By Sgt. Joshua Risner, MND-B PAOMarch 20, 2009
BAGHDAD - The U.S. withdrawal plan for Iraq hinges on the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to stand on their own without the support of Coalition forces. According to the Security Agreement, a self-sufficient Iraq must be able to effectively secure its borders, police its cities and combat an ever-adapting insurgent threat.
This is where Military Transition Teams come in. They form the bridge between Iraqi and Coalition forces, according to Maj. Jim Mullin, team chief of Team Weasel, 6th Iraqi Army Division MiTT.
MiTT teams are put together using senior non-commissioned officers and seasoned officers to maximize the level of experience that can be imparted, according to Master Sgt. Michael Eddy, non-commissioned officer in charge, Team Weasel, 6th IA Div. MiTT.
"Basically when you get orders for a MiTT team, you can be from anywhere and you all meet at Fort Riley and train for three months," he said. "You get to know each other there and then deploy as a team."
Experience in a tactical environment is essential, according to Eddy, who hails from Enfield, Conn.
"I know that on my team, we have nine out of 11 members that have already been in combat, so we have that experience," he said. "We're going to take that experience and use it to train the Iraqis."
Members are selected for their military occupational specialties, forming a well-rounded team that can advise on a variety of duties.
"Basically we have all these different [military occupational specialties] that are kind of pooled together to cover all the different bases that we're going to have to work with," said Mullin, a Scituate, R.I. native.
According to Mullin, a MiTT team's job is to be combat advisors to the Iraqi Army. They coach, teach and mentor them so they can carry out independent counter-insurgency operations without Coalition force support in the future.
One thing vital to getting the Iraqi Army up and running is strengthening its non-commissioned officers, said Sgt. 1st Class Gabriel Ramirez, from Oxnard, Calif., the logistics NCOIC.
"We're trying to get the NCO Corps to drive on," he said. "They don't really have an NCO Corps but we're working on that and it's going along quite well."
The biggest challenge facing Team Weasel is an issue of supply and demand, according to Mullin.
"They know what they want to do but they don't always have the resources to do it," he said. "So part of our job and our mission here is to provide those resources ourselves or to coordinate those resources externally through Coalition force support."
To facilitate good rapport with the IA and in-depth understanding of their needs, Team Weasel maintains close, constant contact by living and working in the same location. They are within walking distance should anything arise that would require their immediate attention.
"The training requires someone who is specialized in that field to provide training and to be here; around all day to make a good relationship with the Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Haleem Jabir, executive officer, Engineer Regiment, 6th IA Div.
Some MiTT teams have the option of living at a forward operating base but declining that opportunity has its own rewards, according to Mullin.
"We don't live in some palace and then come over here to rough it with the Iraqis; we're constantly roughing it with them on a daily basis," he said. "They appreciate that. We have a very tight working relationship with them."
A close relationship paves the way for effective teamwork, Mullin emphasized.
"If we have to go into a combat scenario, if you know a person, trust them and like them, you're more likely to work well together, to gel together in that type of situation."
The 6th IA Div., with the assistance of Team Weasel and other MiTTs, has made progress toward becoming a capable, independent entity, according to Jabir.
"The majority of the Iraqi Army officers right now, they belonged to the ex-Iraqi Army, but with the help of the Americans, we created a new Iraqi Army," he said. "[My Soldiers] have learned from the Americans how to be professionals."
Soldiers newly-trained by the MiTT team have to hit the ground running; the mission requires nothing less, according to Eddy.
"I've actually trained a couple of guys who have gone out on real missions and captured a couple of bad guys," he said.
For Mullin, the evolution of the Iraqi Army has come a long way.
"The last time I was here, during Operation Iraqi Freedom One, we stood up the [Iraq Civil Defense Corps], which was the Iraqi Army in its infancy," he said. "The change and the dramatic improvements have been amazing. I'd say the overall feeling that I get talking with the Iraqi people, talking with senior officers and NCOs is that things are much, much better now. People are safer; they feel safer."
The Iraqi Security Forces continue to work toward a mission goal of increased safety for the citizens of Iraq and independence that requires no assistance from Coalition forces. The MiTTs such as Team Weasel are doing their part to help make that vision a reality.