By Sgt. Benjamin Kibbey, 367th MPAD, USD-S PAOAugust 25, 2010
The U.S. Army has seen significant technological, doctrinal and structural changes within the past decade.
The latest adaptation, turning brigade combat teams into advise and assist brigades, or AABs, reflects tremendous developments in the Iraqi Security Forces and a major change in emphasis for U.S. Soldiers in Iraq.
The role of the AABs is much how it sounds: advising ISF locally and nationally, providing them a logistical safety net, and assisting with governmental and private initiatives through mentorship and funding.
This requires the AAB to work closely with Iraqi leadership and the U.S. State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
As the ISF have taken up the responsibility of securing their country, members of Stabilization Transition Teams have been assigned to work directly with ISF leadership at different levels, Bantad said.
These specially-trained advisors are similar to the Military Transition and Border Transition Teams of the past but are organic to the brigades.
It may sound like a small change, but Capt. Michael Washburn, Alpha Company commander for 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd AAB, 3rd Infantry Division, who worked as a member of a BTT in 2005, said the impact has been noticeable.
"What I experienced on the BT Team prior to it coming down to a brigade level was that, since we had no unit we really fell under, getting the materials, personnel and the support we needed to do our job effectively just wasn't there," said the Yorktown, Va., native.
"Now, you have a team or teams that can do direct coordination for support when it comes to equipment and personnel to get the job done," he said.
In his current role advising the Iraqi Army's 2nd Battalion, 31st Brigade, Washburn has a front-row seat to changes in the ISF.
"We're doing a lot of joint patrols, to keep that partnership, but they're doing a lot more patrols on their own, which is a sign of them being able to run their area of operation without [U.S.] support." he said.
Capt. Matt Hunter, commander of Company C, 2nd Bnattalion, 69th Armor Regiment, is on his third Iraq deployment.
"We've really been able to step back and allow the IA to take the lead," he said. "From where they were in 2005 to where they are now is leaps and bounds ahead. Our 'advise and assist' is really just checking in with them and making sure that they have all the support they need to conduct the operations."
"They've gotten that system down where they train their own and they're very competent and independent, and they've got a lot more pride in themselves as an organization," Hunter said. "As Iraqi Army units, they're very proud of what they do."
Col. Pete Jones, commander of 3/3 AAB, said the development of the ISF has been key to the transition.
"The Iraqi Security Forces have truly taken the lead, demonstrated by the national elections and religious holidays, and most recently Sha'baniya, where they provided security for over three million religious pilgrims to Karbala," he said.
Training the ISF is not the entire picture. AABs also assist Provincial Reconstruction Teams with their efforts to improve Iraq.
In the past, PRTs worked with U.S. Army civil affairs units and had little direct contact with brigades, said Bob Wong, the public diplomacy officer for the Babil PRT.
Wong works directly with the 3/3 AAB, which is responsible for operations in Babil and four neighboring provinces.
"The company commanders I've met, they're intuitively people-persons," Wong said. "They seem to understand, intuitively, what they're trying to do, which is basically talk to the leadership, listen to the leadership."
Lt. Col. Greg Politowicz, deputy team leader for the Babil PRT, has spent the past seven years in Army civil affairs and has previously deployed to Iraq in that capacity.
"They, in my opinion, put the good, smart people in there and trained them well, so that when I go out to any one of the different [Areas of Operation] within the brigade, within the battalion, I find that the captains, lieutenants, sergeants and so forth are working very well and smart," said the Fayetville, N.C., native. "They know what to do; they've been educated."
"It's civil affairs teams out there, except they happen to be called 'companies' and 'AAB,'" he said.
3/3 AAB was one of the first AABs in Iraq. Preparing their combat arms Soldiers to operate in civil affairs started while training for the deployment at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.
The training center mimicked Iraq as much as possible, down to the bases they lived in, said Maj. Gary Bantad, the 3/3 AAB civil affairs officer, a Virginia Beach, Va., native.
As part of the rotation, the brigade visited villages with simulated civilians, met with "provincial councils," worked with U.S. State Department officers acting as a PRT, and simulated paying for and managing projects, he said.
The Iraqi people have confidence in Iraq's future, said Tanya Thompson, team leader for the Human Terrain Assessment Team in Babil, which is responsible for gauging the public's attitude on issues.
"The response was pretty unanimous that they feel that security has increased under the Advise and Assist Brigade, rather than under combat operations," said the Saddle Brook, N.J., native. "All the way up and down, I think that the feeling is that they're really ready to take over; they're ready for us to go."