JOINT SECURITY STATION MUTHANA, Iraq - Members of a highly-trained fighting force called the Strike Team, an elite direct action force for Karkh Area Command, are always seeking self improvement and training opportunities with new recruits to add to their numbers.
Since December 2009, 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, has been closely partnered with the Strike Team, advising them and providing support for training and operations.
"It's different from what we're used to doing as infantrymen, but it's the most important part of the U.S. effort in Iraq right now," said Staff Sgt. Evan Grusofski, of Pittsburgh.
The Strike Team lives and trains at the KAC headquarters compound on JSS Muthana in Baghdad.
The team began with an initial pool of 70 Iraqi Army soldiers, many of whom have been fighting the insurgency since 2003, trained by U.S. Special Operations forces in advanced techniques in an urban environment.
From this foundation, the Strike Team took over training the new recruits.
The best and brightest from the team were selected as instructors and, with help from 2nd Platoon, Strike Force members developed a five-week selection and assessment course designed to prepare their prospective new members.
Many of the new students didn't arrive with the same wealth of knowledge and experience as their predecessors had, said Sgt. Christopher McNear, of San Bernardino, Calif.
"They were a little rough at first," remarked McNear, on graduation day.
However, they finished the training fully capable, he said; the Strike Team ensured it.
At the end of the training, Strike Team put the recruits' skills to the test, conducting a raid in a western Baghdad neighborhood with 2nd Platoon in support.
"It was the first time we had been in the true advisory role in an operational environment, so it was hard for me to sit back and advise the Iraqi squad leaders," said Staff Sgt. Keith Cabanas of Mililani, Hawaii. "My instinct was to be the squad leader, but the Strike Team leadership is strong enough."
Members of the platoon said Strike Team is eager to learn from them, and 2nd Platoon in turn benefits from them because of the Strike Team instructors' wealth of knowledge and experience.
While giving the students a water break on the Close Quarters Marksmanship range, Strike Team instructors gave the advisor team a class on advanced pistol marksmanship.
"The learning goes both ways with these guys," said Sgt. Jason Taylor of Hamlet, Ind. "Because of all the diverse training they've received over the years, the instructors' kit bags are huge."
2nd Platoon advisors said this back-and-forth training has allowed both teams to grow into a very close-knit group.
"I'd have no problem going directly into a live-fire with these guys, with only one or two dry-run rehearsals," said Sgt. 1st Class Joe Huffman of Batesburg, S.C. "I trust them and their abilities that much."
The two teams are only required to train, plan, and execute missions together, but they often eat, work out, and having fun together between training and missions.
"I'm going to miss my American friends when they go home," said Sgt. Saif Anan, the Strike Team head instructor. "I hope one day, we can visit each other just to hang out."
The Soldiers of 2nd Platoon said that day might not be too far off.