BAGHDAD - The odds seemed stacked against them from the start.
Flights were cancelled, more than once. The two 101st Engineer Battalion Soldiers weren't able to carry all their training aids on a Black Hawk, so Spc. Danny Rockett was forced to stay behind with the remaining gear.
When Maj. Ralph Pickett arrived at Joint Service Station al-Rasheed the third week of January, he discovered that the building he would teach his classes in had no power, no running water, and the classroom offered little in the way of natural lighting.
Undaunted, the Easthampton, Mass., native, who works as a civilian mechanical contractor back home, jumped in with both feet to set up a 40-hour class on electricity; determined to teach his 9th Iraqi Army Field Regiment students how to safely work with power.
Pickett started with a quick practical lesson on the 3-kilowatt generator. His intention was to teach the IA troops how to properly start it and attach wires to it so they get power to the second floor classroom.
The students listened quietly at first but after a few jokes and questions from Pickett and encouragement from their senior noncommissioned officer, they loosened up.
"Focus and learn. This electrical class is not only about this army, but it is about you," said 9th Iraqi Army Field Regiment, Command Sgt. Maj. Kadhim Malih Jabbr, "You will be able to go home and help your family by being able to fix your homes correctly. Focus and learn."
On the second day of class, Rockett, of Kingston, Mass, arrived at al-Rasheed with the rest of the training aids needed to assist in the hands-on portion of the class.
Once the class began, both instructors taught the Iraqi soldiers how to splice wires with tools specific to the trade. Using wire nuts, Rockett explained the differences between the colored wires.
"The instructors have much knowledge; I am happy to be here working with Rockett," said Cpl. Adnan Mohammad Hassan. "He has taught us how to be safe around electricity. Now, I can fix my own home."
The instructors stressed safety throughout; a message that resonated by the end of the course.
"I am so happy; I have learned many important skills here," said Sgt. Ali Twoman Shamran, a generator mechanic for the 9th IA. "For example, I learned that grounding our equipment is for our safety."