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NEWS | May 12, 2015

US soldiers part of coalition preparing Iraqi army for sustained success

By By Sgt. Cody Quinn, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve

CAMP TAJI, Iraq, May 12, 2015 - Camp Taji has been a key location in the U.S. training effort portion of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and 310th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) Forward Advise and Assist, provide hands-on training to Iraqi army soldiers during their nine-month deployment to the region.

“Generally, the Iraqis are pretty friendly to us,” said Pfc. Jesse Giallonardo, a combat engineer with the 307th Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Combat engineers with the 307th Engineer Battalion created obstacles and simulated battlefield conditions to improve the quality of training for Iraqi soldiers at Taji.

“A lot of them are motivated,” Giallonardo said. “They’re excited to train whether they’re tired or hungry. When we ask them if they want to stop, they say, ‘No, we are made of steel. We want to fight.’”

U.S. soldiers at Taji trained more than 1,000 Iraqi soldiers in tasks ranging from basic soldiering skills, aviation operations and diesel generator maintenance.

“The class is a great thing. We learn a lot. We do appreciate the American military for teaching us, we really do,” said Sgt. Hosham Ysseen, the noncommissioned officer in charge of Camp Taji’s water treatment plant, who attended a class on generator maintenance.

Classes given by U.S. soldiers help to prepare the Iraqi army, and Ysseen said he would like to see them continue.

Along with providing sustainment training, paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division provided a six-week basic training course and a three-week advanced training course to Iraqi army brigades.

The six-week course covered basic soldiering skills like moving as a squad, reacting to the enemy and basic rifle marksmanship. It culminated in an exercise testing all they had learned.

The advanced course built on those skills by increasing the complexity of their tactics and finished with an exercise that combined infantry, engineers, tanks and helicopters.

"This is what they signed up for,” said Sgt. Eric Labezzari, a cavalry scout with Alpha Troop, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division. “They’re eager to take their country back. They’re always saying it.”

Labezzari was one of approximately 50 paratroopers with Alpha Troop deployed to advise and assist in training the Iraqi army. Despite the language barrier, the instructors and their students found ways to communicate with each other.

“We use a lot of sign language. Ninety-nine percent of the time we point at something, and they point at it,” he said.

The mutual learning and high-level of interaction between Iraqi and U.S. forces has been an enjoyable experience, said Sgt. Stacy Minder, a generator mechanic instructor with 82nd Airborne Division.

“My family has enjoyed hearing stories about us working together, too,” she said. “We’re continuing to show that the Iraqi army and U.S. Army are working side-by-side.”

The U.S. is one of a dozen countries involved in CJTF-OIR’s build partner capacity mission. Under the BPC program, about 6,900 Iraqi forces have been trained, and another 3,100 are currently in training.