BAGHDAD (April 2, 2011) -- As the Iraqi Army continues to increase their defense capabilities, Iraqi soldiers are learning not only how to operate new equipment, but how to properly recover and maintain damaged equipment.

Fourteen Iraqi Army soldiers from the 9th Mechanized Division began the M88A2 Operator New Equipment Training Course at the Besmaya Combat Training Center here, March 7. This course marks the first time Iraqi Army soldiers have worked with the M88A2 Heavy Equipment Recovery Combat Utility Lift and Evacuation System vehicle.

"The course teaches them how to operate the M88A2 HERCULES, which will be used to recover the M1A1 Abrams to bring them back to the shop for repairs," said Sgt. 1st Class Jose Rodriguez-Barajas, an operations noncommissioned officer with Iraq Training and Advising Mission-Army.

The M88A2 OPNET course gives the students in-depth classroom training on the recovery vehicle, along with hands-on opportunities to grasp the concepts taught during the 55-day course, which is expected to conclude in mid-may.

"We are given step-by-step directions on the M88A2," said Iraqi Army Maj. Kasam with the Iraqi Armor Engineering School in Taji, Iraq.

The course provides operators with training on their own equipment, M88A2s purchased by the Government of Iraq through a Foreign Military Sales agreement with the United States that includes the Iraqi purchase of 140 M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks.

The course covers everything from how to conduct Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services to using the M88A2 to tow an M1A1 tank.

"When the course is over, those assets (M88A2s) will be turned over to the Iraqi Army for their use," said Lt. Col. David C. Beachman, the Iraq Training and Advising Mission-Army senior adviser at Besmaya Combat Training Center.

The M88A2 is a versatile, heavy-duty vehicle recovery system, capable of recovering any tracked vehicle. The Iraqis are excited to have the new capability for recovering Iraqi Army tracked vehicles, Kasam said.

"It was a very proud moment when we received this equipment," Kasam said.

The M88A2 OPNET course plays a key part in assisting the Government of Iraq with enhancing the Iraqi Army's ability to create a strong force to defend Iraq against external threats, according to USF-I officials.

"We're trying to build an Iraqi Army that is a viable, and has a sustainable conventional defense capability," said Beachman.

Soldiers can be trained on how to maneuver a tank, but if it breaks down and they are unable to tow it back to a maintenance facility to fix it, the platform won't be an effective combat multiplier.