BAGHDAD - When the Soldiers from Apache Troop, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, arrived in Baghdad and went on a joint patrol with a team of Iraqi Federal Police policemen for the first time, they were a little shocked by the vast cultural differences.

"When we started doing combined operations, we noticed a huge difference in the way the U.S. Forces and ISF acted out in sector," said 1st Lt. Chris Colvin, a platoon leader at the time, now the executive officer for Apache Troop. "For us it was just get in, do our job and get out. But [the ISF] would be drinking chai in the streets and we were like, 'Woah, what's going on''"

But soon their initial shock subsided and was replaced by understanding.

"They just have a different mentality," said 1st Lt. Colvin, a native of Cleveland, Ohio. "At first, with our lesser experience, we took that as less organized or professional. But [it's not that], they just go about things differently because it's a different culture. The end result is still the same."

As the relationship began to grow, 1st Lt. Colvin and his platoon sergeant started discussing ways they could increase the progress and cooperation.

"[We] hit it off with our Iraqi Federal Police partners, and we were interested in taking the partnership to the next level," he explained. "We have a unique ability to do that on this joint security station because we are already in [the immediate area]. We started talking to battalion commanders about it to see what they thought. We developed a better and better relationship with their shurta (policemen), and the next thing we knew we had A-CREP."

A-CREP is the commonly used acronym for Apache Combined Resident Exchange Program. The first of its kind, the program is an all-encompassing training experience where the Iraqi policemen live, work, exercise, eat and train with the troop for an extended length of time. The first participants were six Iraqi Federal policemen from 3rd Battalion, 7th Brigade, 2nd Iraqi Federal Police Division, who have now been with the troop for almost four months on JSS Doura. Other units send policemen for 10-14 days periods, but the 3-7-2 policemen are the only permanent IFP residents on the JSS.

"With a program like A-CREP, you are with [the policemen] 24-7, so they are able to really see what the U.S. Forces are all about behind the scenes too, not just how we are out in sector," said 1st Lt. Colvin. "I feel like that is what sets us up for success going out on missions, the little things which make the USF different than the IFP because we have so many years of experience. I think they are able to see that now. It is really hard to be able to see that in detail when you are not living with us 24-7."

When the policemen first came to JSS Doura, there were a few kinks that had to be worked out.
"When new cycles came in, trying to get them to show up with the right packing list and on time [was a challenge]," said 1st Lt. Colvin. "We had our plan about how we thought things would be executed, and somehow it would get lost in translation, maybe because they had another idea at first."

The Soldiers and policemen on both sides felt it as well.

"When we first started working with the Americans, the differences [between us] were huge," said Safa, a corporal with 3-7-2.

"From what we have been told and from what we have seen, their training was not to ours," explained Staff Sgt. Tim Griffin, a section leader and senior scout for Apache Troop. "We train till we get it right, even if it's 2 o'clock in the morning. With them, they take breaks."

But as the partnership has continued and developed, those differences have begun to fade.

"There was a big difference, but we are almost the same now," said Safa, and then joked, "We are practically American citizens."

"We have been here almost four months, and we have learned a lot," said Karmimim, a sergeant with 3-7-2. "We have gotten a lot of training on how to use American weapons, and how to [conduct] operations. Outside and inside the base, we have learned the American system. So I know that after [the troop] leaves and we go back to the Iraqi brigade... we will definitely have a lot of stuff to show [the other policemen]."

The IFP policemen spend long hours studying and learning the different weapons systems used by the U.S. Forces. The younger IFP policemen could barely contain their enthusiasm for having an opportunity to work around them.

"We have seen so many different type of weapons. That has been great; it has been a really good experience," agree Safa and Muhammad, another corporal with 3-7-2. "We don't just know about the weapons, we have even learned how to [disassemble] and put the weapons back together really fast."

"Now we can even beat the Americans [at it]," they say as huge grins spread over their faces. "Believe it or not, but we did."

The Soldiers and policemen have been together for so long now that it is hard to tell a difference besides the patterns of their uniform.

"Living with the Iraqis on our JSS, we eat with them, train with them, go out on missions together," said Staff Sgt. Griffin. "Sometimes, they'll lead out in front [during missions]; sometimes we will lead out in front."

The Soldiers with Apache Troop laugh as they describe a recent patrol they completed while a general was visiting.

"We were rolling down the road and [Ali] came over the radio because he was leading the patrol," a Soldier from the troop described. "[The general] had never been on a patrol where an Iraqi policeman was in charge before, and he seemed a little nervous at first. But by the time we returned to base [the general] was really impressed."

Equality is one of the biggest points stressed in the program.

"The best thing that I liked was that as an Iraqi sergeant, the Americans treat me the same way they treat their own sergeants," said Ali, the head sergeant for the 3-7-2 policemen living with Apache Troop. "Sometimes, I see American Soldiers doing something wrong, and now I can fix them. American sergeants told me I could have that authority. If one of my soldiers are doing something wrong, [the American sergeants] will tell them."

That kind of relationship is exactly what this program was designed to create.

"On a daily basis you can notice the power of [the partnership]," said 1st Lt. Colvin. "Every time we roll out of the wire we have FP vehicles with us. We live with the guys 24-7; we eat with them, wash clothes with them, and work out in the gym with them. This is what a true partnership is all about, because they are essentially part of the platoon now."

As the other Iraqi units cycle in and out of the JSS, the Soldiers from Apache Troop are stepping back and allowing Ali and his policemen to train the new ones.

"The Americans know the abilities we have, [so they let us] train them and we really appreciate that," said Gawad. "We just did vehicle maintenance yesterday, and then we [got to] train the new guys."

The education and experience has not just been one sided.

"[Working with the FP] has really opened our minds," said 1st Lt. Colvin. "We've learned from them just as much as they have learned from us. Learning about their culture is one thing. I think they have really set us up for success on how to conduct business in their country and in their muhallahs (neighborhoods), how to engage their local populace, what to look out for and what to not worry about. They just have a whole different perspective that we aren't able to get living in Cleveland, Ohio, that we need here in Baghdad, Iraq. It's a huge help."

Staff Sergeant Griffin agreed the experience has been nothing but positive.

"It's just [the opportunity] to get to know each other from different cultures," he explains. "The best thing is being with them, seeing how they work with us and how we work with them. Everyone may have a stigmatism about [different cultures], but these guys are great. They are 100 percent loyal. They've got my back, and I've got theirs."

Apache Troop intends to continue A-CREP until they return to the states.

"We are definitely going to keep this going," said 1st Lt. Colvin. "We have seen the huge benefits and enormous gains we have gotten from this program. There would be no reason to stop this. This is something we hope to pass of to the next unit replacing us."

All the Soldiers in Apache Troop take personal pride in the program.

"[A-CREP] is something new that has never been done before, and we have gotten the chance to be the start of it," said Staff Sgt. Griffin. "Everybody else is following suit from what we have put together. It has been the whole entire platoon, and the troop, supporting this 100 percent that has made it so great."

The feelings are mutual for the IFP soldiers.

"I would really like to thank all the sergeants, Soldiers, and officers," said Ali. "They are like our brothers now."