Story by 1st Lt. Caleb Walkup, Bandit Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment
SOUTHWEST ASIA - Mortarmen from Bandit Troop, 1st Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, conducted training for Iraqi troops alongside mortar instructors from the Australian and New Zealand military, Sep. 1-12, 2018.
The Iraqi Security Forces recently acquired new U.S. military M120 mortar systems to replace their older Serbian 120 millimeter mortars. The new system is more accurate, has additional safety features, and increases the Iraqi army's ability to deliver indirect fires in the fight against ISIS.
Tiger Squadron troopers Staff Sgt. Merrell Dews, Sgt. Trevor Cacciatore and Spc. Brandyn Brownfield worked alongside mortar instructors from the 6th Royal Australian Regiment and New Zealand military to train more than 70 members of the Iraqi mortar brigade.
"The Australians themselves had never fired the M120 mortar system so when they found out there were some Americans here who had experience on it they quickly asked for our assistance," said Dews, an Infantry Mortar Leader Course qualified non-commissioned officer and Bandit Troop's mortar section leader. "Of course we were more than happy to oblige."
The Brave Rifles troopers are currently deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, working by, with and through the Iraqi Security Forces and coalition partners from 74 nations to defeat ISIS in areas of Iraq and Syria, and to set conditions for follow-on operations to increase regional stability.
The mortar training event lasted Sep. 1-12 and was the second of three sessions and allowed the U.S. and Australian Advisors to teach the Iraqis their standard operating procedures for utilizing the M120 mortar system.
The first session took place Aug. 18-23 and allowed the Iraqi mortarmen to show the instructors their current SOPs and methods.
One surprise for many of the U.S. troops was that many of the Iraqi soldiers were in their 40s and 50s, while many U.S. soldiers are much younger and in their early 20s.
"They're much older and more experienced than what I originally thought they would be," said Dews, "I can tell these men have been firing mortars for many years."
One of the Iraqi mortarmen had been in the Iraqi army for over 34 years.
"Hypeman," as the veteran Iraqi soldier is affectionately referred to by the Bandit Troop mortarmen, said, "I take pride in working with American soldiers because I know the importance of remaining prepared to defend Iraq."
Hypeman is known for keeping all the other Iraqi soldiers motivated and always expressing enthusiasm to learn from the U.S. and Australian instructors.
"Every day we train with them on this new system their motivation and skill increases," Cacchiatore said.
The Iraqis they are training are not just mortarmen, but also forward observers and fire direction center personnel that participated in the training in order to build an operational understanding of these new weapon systems on the battlefield.
"Even the officers take part in the training," Brownfield said. "Everyone who is there participates and takes the time to learn the system."
The last session will be the culminating event in which the Iraqi mortar teams refine their SOPs and finally put their skills to the test and fire live rounds in a Mortar Training and Evaluation Program exercise in October.
This final exercise will allow them to certify on the M120 mortar system and show that they are qualified to conduct real life fire missions against ISIS and more effectively secure their nation against attack.