BAGHDAD - While clearing rubble at the northern end of the Baghdad International Airport runway, Soldiers of the 277th Engineer Company level the ground to expand the safety distance zone. In addition to the project itself, Soldiers also impart skills and knowledge as heavy equipment operators to their 6th Iraqi Army engineer counterparts.

"Our job is to incorporate the IA into the engineer efforts here so they can get a better idea of how to operate and maintain a general construction worksite," said 2nd Lt. Stuart Redus, of the 277th Eng. Co., an Army Reserve unit based in San Antonio, attached to the 46th Eng. Battalion, 225th Eng. Brigade. "We are here to familiarize the Iraqis with the equipment and build their organizational skills so they can do all the construction efforts themselves," he added.

For the Soldiers of the 277th, the partnership toward building a better Iraq starts with preventive maintenance checks and services (PMCS) of the giant bulldozers, excavators and front-end loaders.

"We've noticed their skills as operators are not too bad, but they need to improve on their techniques for taking care of the equipment," said Redus, project manager. "Every day we go through a full PMCS together to show them which fluids go where, to see if there are any leaks and what needs fixing."

With a lesson on proper PMCS behind them, the process of grading, digging and engineering begins. That's when the 277th engineers dig up challenges linked to good verbal and physical communication. "We've had briefings with the interpreter so he can translate all our signals," said assistant project manager Staff Sgt. Ismael Gaona, assigned to the 277th Eng. Co.

It seems some of the hand signals have worked opposite to their intended meaning, he added. "I'm trying to tell him to back up and he's going forward."

Using an interpreter, they come up with a solution and implement an old standby of the U.S. Army-train the trainer. As one IA Soldier learns the proper guiding technique, then that Soldier trains the others.

Training on this project started recently and Soldiers are aware that time and practice is needed to become proficient.

"We want them to learn safety and capabilities so they'll be more comfortable at the controls," said Gaona, also from San Antonio. "We're teaching them how to let the machines do the work for them."

The engineers are confident that the 6th IA Soldiers will gain more skills and develop into capable heavy machine operators. They are also training them on how to be solid, consistent contributors on the job.

The 277th Soldiers are trying to instill a work ethic where the IA engineers can see constant examples of dedication to a goal. "We are teaching them punctuality and we are incorporating discipline, time lines and project management," said Redus. "There is a lunch schedule to be followed as well."

So far, the Soldiers are generally impressed by the attitudes of the 6th IA engineers. "They have been ready to go at eight in the morning every day, they are showing initiative throughout the day and acknowledging what we are advising them," said Spc. Moises Briseno, a heavy equipment operator, from San Antonio, assigned to the 277th Eng. Co. "They are already doing skills they weren't doing before."

Soldiers are taking pride in training the IA engineers. "It's an honor. Not many Soldiers get the opportunity to teach the Iraqis how to operate equipment," said Pfc. Eric Salinas, from Victoria, Texas, a heavy equipment operator with the 277th Eng. Co. "They listen well and with more practice, they'll be up to speed."

Soldiers recognize the difficulties in training the IA and try to pick up on a few Arabic phrases to help them communicate better.

Even so, the 277th Eng. Co. Soldiers have embraced the relationship of training the IA engineers in their field of expertise, as heavy equipment operators.

They are making all the necessary adjustments to teach the IA how to take pride in their work. Soldiers relish this opportunity to teach the 6th Iraqi Army engineers and make a difference in improving the quality of life for all Iraqis.