KIRKUK, Iraq, Feb. 22, 2007 - U.S. Army Staff Sgt. James Lee looked like a proud father. A group of Iraqi Strategic Infrastructure Brigade soldiers (SIB), who Lee has been helping to train for six months, huddled around him after showing off their warrior skills during a demonstration for Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander Multi-National Division North and 25th Infantry Division.

Lee told the group of 1st and 5th Battalion Iraqi soldiers of the 1st SIB he was proud of them and to maintain their motivation level while performing their mission.

The 1st SIB is charged with protecting the oil infrastructure here, including various pipelines, said Lt. Col. Jack Pritchard, commander 3rd Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Achieving Iraq's full oil production capacity is a key to its economic recovery and rebuilding the refineries, wells and pipelines and keeping them safe from insurgent attacks is crucial.

Lee and his fellow 3-7 soldiers have been working with the 1st SIB four days a week to improve their defense of strategic facilities.

As a noncommissioned officer, Lee is used to training soldiers. Despite instructing through an interpreter, Lee said that his approach to working with the Iraqi troops is similar to how he trains soldiers back in the states.

"I had to break things down to the basics and make sure they had them down before moving on," Lee said. "But once they started tracking they wanted more. It's like training soldiers back home. Once you grab their attention and they start to learn, they're hungry for more."

The 3-7 soldiers have been training 1st SIB for what they're most likely to face while protecting the infrastructure, including close quarters marksmanship, setting up checkpoints and reacting to improvised explosive devices.

"The SIB has always seemed happy not just to have us around but to learn from us," said Pvt. Balladine, 3-7. "They're squared away and usually eager to show us what they can do."

In an effort to get the SIB to train on their own, Lee has encouraged leaders to emerge. While unsure of themselves at first, Lee said that a few soldiers have taken charge and are training the group on their own.

They even constructed a checkpoint in front of the 1st SIB compound without any suggestion from the 3-7 soldiers.

"They've been tracking since we started working with them and they continue to take steps forward," Lee said. "It was amazing to see them today during the demonstration. From when we started teaching them and to see them now ... it feels like watching a child grow."