TAJI, Iraq - Imagine having to go to school and learn as though your entire existence depended on it. That is a big burden. It's also the challenge Iraqi Army Soldiers face at the Iraqi Army (IA) Engineer School in Taji, Iraq, north of Baghdad.

Call it Iraq's own version of the advanced individual training, but just not as advanced. Yet, they're making strides to improve the quality of the training that goes on here.

"It's an incremental progress here," said Iraqi Army Col. Flahe, IA Engineer School commander. "There's no big bang here - just little victories."

Those little victories were few and far between just six months ago when a good portion of the school was in disrepair.

"You would not want to even enter (at that time)," explained Flahe when talking about a sleeping area that his Soldiers renovated into a classroom.

Flahe recently gave a tour of this facility to Brig. Gen. Owen Monconduit, 225th Engineer Brigade commander along with IA Col. Ahmed Khalifa, 6th Engineer Regiment commander and IA Col. Hatim, 9th Engineer Regiment commander.

"This is the finest training that I have seen right here," said Monconduit.

At this two month course, Iraqi Soldiers learn everything here from plumbing, electrical, woodworking, operating heavy machinery like dozers and graders and bridge building. They also are trained on combat-related duties like clearing routes of improvised explosive devices.

That's especially important to Monconduit, who will soon lose one of his units that is moving on to a new mission in Afghanistan.

The 4th Engineer Battalion is being replaced by a smaller company-sized element. That poses a challenge, and Monconduit is hoping these Iraqi engineers at this school will help fill in where the need is greatest - combat operations.

"The training you are receiving is important and critical to your success and to the success of the Iraqi government," Monconduit told the students at the school. "I am very impressed with your commander. He takes pride in the engineer school and it shows in the training you are receiving today."

Training the Trainers

"We don't run the school, we give opinions and advice," said Sgt. Maj. John Ruyle, who is an Iraqi advisor. "We're just fine tuning what they have - and we're changing training to make it more effective."

One of the courses in route clearance has already been shaved down from 20 to 10 days of instruction. That quicker turnaround means more Iraqi Soldiers will be ready to be on mission as soon as possible.

"We think (shortening the course) is a better way to do it," said Ruyle. "The idea is Iraqis leading Iraqis."

Ruyle says the course is not perfect, but the Soldiers are learning the basics of combat engineering. He said it's enough to get the job done.

"Rome was not built in a day - we're making small improvements," he said. "Eventually you're going to get where you want to go."

Ruyle and others are "training the trainers' which is an important phase of operations in Iraq as outlined in the U.S. - Iraq security agreement as the deadline for U.S. combat troop reduction nears.