By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell, MND-B PAOMarch 26, 2009
FOB CONSTITUTION, Iraq - Bulldozers and graters tore up chunks of earth as 6th Iraqi Army engineers and 277th Engineer Company Soldiers toiled together during a five-day heavy machinery training class at Forward Operating Base Constitution March 24.
"While we were out here, we found a road buried," said a smiling San Juan, Puerto Rico native, Sgt. 1st Class Bifredo Barros, a platoon sergeant for 277th En. Co., 46th En. Battalion, 225th En. Brigade. "So we started to question what else we were going to find."
What engineers of the 6th IA and 277th En. Co. also found was friendship.
"When we first started the training, it was a little tense, but then we started opening up," said Spc. Aaron Velasquez, a heavy construction equipment operator assigned to the 277th En. Co. and who hails from San Marcos, Texas. "We just try to be as friendly as possible, they do the same to us, now it's just like we've known each other for years. We've got a great friendship."
Getting dirty and sweaty while training together helps forge friendships, but cooperation is vital to upgrade the Iraqi's heavy machinery skills and complete the first phase of a construction project for U.S. and Iraqi Soldiers living here.
"The Soldiers treat us very well and we cooperate with them," said Iraqi Army 2nd Lt. Nassim Rashid, an engineer assigned to the 6th IA En. Bn. "We are comfortable with the Americans and they treat us well. We are one team."
The engineers from both militaries teamed up together to accomplish two missions at once, added Barros.
"They are actually doing some real work in prepping the ground for an upcoming project," continued Barros as an IA Soldier in a bulldozer flattened out the land behind him to mitigate the drainage of the soil. "We're going to do it in such a way that the water is going to run away from the buildings."
Along with preparing the soil, the training that the IA engineers receive will help them work their own equipment they are acquiring in August, added Barros. In order to do this, the classrooms are the vehicles.
"We sit with them inside the vehicles; it's a lot of hands-on training," said Velasquez. "We just basically throw them in the mix. They've taken it to the next level and they've responded pretty well to the training."
The focus of this type of training has been to teach the IA engineers how to instruct other Iraqi Soldiers on the vehicles because they will be the primary trainers for the rest of their unit when their equipment comes, added Barros.
"At this point, they are actually correcting each other without any of us intervening to let them develop their trainer skills to help grow up their own army," said a dirt-covered Barros.
"I wish that these future classes are the same with us and the Americans, because we can agree to work toward the same goals," said Iraqi Army Pfc. Hadair Abaas, a 6th IA engineer wearing a sweat-ringed desert camouflaged IA uniform. "We'll help this country and our people and we will all benefit."
Helping the IA engineers become self-sustaining while starting a project to help FOB Constitution Soldiers live better is demanding work for the 277th En. Co.
However, uncovering an asphalt road while working allows for some humor on the job site, according to Barros, "We were just making fun of it and trying to find out where this road will take us."
With the friendships cemented and the experience gained, they may not know where this road will take them, but the Iraqis will now be prepared to travel that road because of the training from Americans.