CAMP HAMZA, Iraq (Army News Service, Feb. 12, 2010) -- Sharp gunfire cracked the mid-morning silence at Camp Hamza, Jan. 21, as U.S. paratroopers from the 1st Advise and Assist Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, tested their skills at a new firing range.

Next to them, Iraqi officers from 28th Brigade, 7th Division of the Iraqi Army, shouted instructions to their soldiers as they too tested their skills, signifying the official opening of "Freedom Range."

The new range was a gift to the Iraqi brigade from the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment "Red Devils."

Officials broke ground on the range in early January but had to postpone its completion on several occasions due to weather, issues with heavy equipment and their high operational tempo. The unit completed the project inside the month, however, on Jan. 20.

"It seemed like this range was destined to never be finished, but we got it done through broken equipment, sand storms and missions," said Spc. Marquis Ross, a radio telephone operator. "We all worked together to complete it."

The paratroopers received assistance from the scout and mortar platoons and the 28th Military Transition Team, as well as contributions of heavy equipment and operators from 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1/82 AAB.

Staff Col. Ismail Abed Muhammed Al-Hayana, his staff, and the brigade commando company moved to the firing line alongside Capt. Christopher Duprey, of 28th MTT, to try his hand at the range.

"We are very thankful for this range and the opportunities it provides," said Ismail. "In God's will, this will help our soldiers to shoot true when their country needs them."

After the ceremonial first rounds were fired downrange, it was handed over to the noncommissioned officers of Iraqi Commando Company and Red Devil scout platoon, who arranged to shoot a close quarters "marksmanship table" together.

"It is really great to be able to conduct live fire rehearsals and training with our Iraqi counterparts, allowing us both to build confidence in each other's abilities for future partnered operations," said Staff Sgt. Seanessey O'Dowd, with the Red Devils.

Staff Sergeant Akmed, with the Iraqi Army, believes the new range will help build skills and relationships.

"This range helps us build a partnership based on mutual respect, and building trust in each other's war fighting skills," he said.

(1st Lt. Joshua Stuart-Shor writes for the 1st Bn., 504th PIR, 1st Bde., 82nd Abn. Div.(Advise and Assist), USD-C)