CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - Thanks in large part to the development and capability of the Iraq's Security Forces, U.S. troops continue to move closer to a change in mission, transitioning from combat to stability operations.
While the manner in which the U.S. military conducts missions will continue to evolve, focusing more on advising, assisting and training, Command Sgt. Maj. Lawrence K. Wilson, United States forces-Iraq command sergeant major, said the professionalism of its service members must remain consistent, and engaged leadership is one of the main factors.
"Standards, discipline and quality leadership will always stay constant across the board," Wilson said.
Wilson was with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Since then, he has watched as disciplined and well-trained small units guided the Iraqi Security Forces to the point where they can secure their own country.
"Tactically and operationally, small units on the ground have made the difference," Wilson said. "They need to understand what they've done at their level has gotten us to the strategic place where we are today."
At the battalion level, Maj. Damien Garner, operations officer for the 317th Military Police Battalion, which has command and control over military police transition teams in the Tikrit area, sees the impact that involved leaders can have on the ability to keep Soldiers focused on their military bearing and on the mission at hand.
"If you're not the guy interacting, a lot of times you're going to lose the focus of 'why am I doing this''" he said. "It's the responsibility of the chain of command to keep Soldiers aware that they are doing an important job ... and that what we're doing is still having an effect."
First Lieutenant Justin Prophet, of Bellingham, Mass., platoon leader of 2nd platoon, 747th MP Co., has led almost 120 missions advising the district police chiefs in Fallujah and Habaniyah. He found that it was vital as a leader to keep his Soldiers up to speed on their missions and what the overarching goals were. He did through in-depth briefs and by including his junior Soldiers in leadership engagements with his Iraqi counterparts.
"They got to see the faces, they got to deal with the people that they were always hearing about in the briefs and the debriefs," he said, "It gave them a bigger picture of our objectives in advising and assisting the Iraqi Police."
According to Command Sgt Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., senior enlisted advisor for the USF-I deputy-commanding general for operations, as the big picture for USF-I changes from Operation Iraqi Freedom into Operation New Dawn in September, it will continue to be important for American service members to remember that Iraqis will continue to look to them as the example of how professional Soldiers look and behave.
"Every Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine is an ambassador for our nation," Coleman said. "The way we carry ourselves, the way we talk to our Iraqi counterparts, the way the Iraqis see us engage on a daily basis has a huge impact."
Prophet thinks one of the best way to ensure Soldiers maintains high standards is by having first line leaders spot checking team members and squad members for "little things" like eye protection, hearing protection, gloves and water.
"The little things create the big things," Prophet said. "They're the enablers. They are what allow us to focus on the mission."
Wilson credits the small unit, first line leaders with enabling the strategic mission by maintaining the professionalism of the United States forces over the last seven years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"If we didn't have the standards and discipline and conduct that we have had in the years that we have been in Iraq, we would not be where we are today strategically," said Wilson.
He said the Iraq Army is becoming a well-organized and a well-disciplined force, because not only are they learning how the U.S. forces train and fight, but they are also seeing leaders and Soldiers who act like professionals and the value of proper conduct on the battlefield.