FOB KALSU, Iraq (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2008) - As the midday sun warmed the ground at FOB Kalsu Jan. 15, 56 Iraqi soldiers stood beside 18 U.S. noncommissioned officers, in front of two countries' flags, with one common purpose and made history.
The Iraqi soldiers comprised the first group to begin training at the new Task Force Marne NCO Academy, and the first-ever group of Iraqi Security Forces to attend a leaders' course.
Multi-National Division - Center Command Sergeant Major Jesse L. Andrews Jr. welcomed the soldiers with a short ceremony.
"The two-week course that we have designed will teach you, the students, the basics in leadership and combat tactics, and enhance your procedural abilities to be able to train, teach, coach and mentor soldiers in your units," Andrews told the trainees through an interpreter. "For years, our NCO Corps has been called the 'backbone of the Army.' We want NCOs and leaders of the Iraqi Security Forces to gain this same distinction - to become the backbone of the ISF."
His words were met with enthusiastic applause from the Iraqis, who seemed all too eager to get started right away.
"I'm very happy to be here," said Iraqi platoon leader Gessam Gafel Shanan, a member of 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division. "All this training is going to make our NCOs stronger and more able to learn from our (U.S.) partners."
Staff Sgt. Deoneza Payne, the Academy's NCO in charge of personnel, said she was looking forward to the course as much as the Iraqis were.
"I see our Soldiers working together hand-in-hand with their soldiers, learning from each other," she said. "This is a partnership - it's not only their school; it's our school, too."
Hamid Yunis, an Iraqi squad leader from 1/6 IA, said as an NCO, he already has an idea of how to lead his soldiers, but is also looking forward to developing his skills.
With competence comes confidence, and the Academy's aim is to give Iraqi NCOs a combination of those two qualities as they receive two weeks of diverse training in everything from first aid to combatives.
"They're going to be armed with the right tools, the right skill sets to go out there to be able to make sound and timed decisions in this ever-changing combat environment that we're operating in right now," Andrews said.
Shanan, who has been in the Iraqi Army for nearly three years, added that his hope was for terrorism in Iraq to be wiped out during this generation, and sees the NCO Academy as a stepping stone toward that goal.
"I think -- no, I'm sure, that after this experience, our NCOs will be ready to stand in the Iraqi streets and follow their training to protect the people. Then we can have a normal life," he said as he marched his soldiers off to their first class.
"This is something new; we are really excited to go out and practice what we learn here," Yunis said. "We are hoping our Army is going to get stronger and stronger every year, and through this we can gain peace and stability."
(Spc. Emily J. Wilsoncroft serves with MND-Central PAO.)