KIRKUK, Iraq (American Forces Press Service, May 1, 2007) - Having already waited in the cold and driving rain, the privates, or "jondis" as they are called, lay in the mud awaiting their turn to fire AK-47s at targets, fighting the wind to stay upright. The Iraqi Army basic trainees need to qualify with their weapons, and their packed training schedule does not allow time to wait for prime conditions.

This kind of dedication, despite the day's nasty weather at the K-1 Iraqi Army Base, hasn't always been the case for the Iraqi army.

"Back in the 'old army,' the Soldiers would probably stay inside, and the whole day would have been wasted," said Iraqi Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mubrad Sarheed Abed, the Regional Training Center command sergeant major. "Now the jondis have to be ready to deal with anything because the training will go on."

The current group is entering the last of eight weeks of basic training at K-1's RTC, the Iraq Army's largest basic training site.

Unlike most cycles in which Soldiers are assigned to various units after they graduate, the Soldiers training together now will stay together to help form a new brigade that will be stationed in Samarra, about 80 miles north of Baghdad.

"We told the Iraqi Army early on that they had to train like they're going to fight," said 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Morris, Coalition Military Transition Team (CMATT) noncommissioned officer in charge.

The CMATT is a U.S. Army team of four Soldiers that works with the Regional Training Center as advisers and mentors. In their 11 months here, they have helped the Iraqi army standardize their training program instruction.

"They have really learned how to be flexible and stick to the training schedule," 1st Sgt. Morris said. "They're dedicated to the mission, so they make it happen."

Formations of jondis high stepped down K-1's mostly paved roads during an early morning run while the strong winds blew the rain into their faces. They pressed their soaking uniforms off the damp ground while pumping out pushups and avoided jumping into puddles while performing calisthenics.

Training center officials hope that struggling through these hardships of basic training together will help the new Iraqi Army Soldiers form a strong unit in Samarra.

"These guys are close to my heart, more than my own brothers," said Pvt. Najah Hassan Kathim about his fellow basic trainees. "We've had enough time to train together, we know each other and we'll go to battle together."