U.S. Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Strike, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), took charge of a ranger training program for qualified volunteers from Iraqi security forces at Camp Taji, Iraq, when they arrived in May.
The ranger training program, led by Company A, 1-502nd, is one of the multiple building partner capacity missions the around 1,800 member strong task force leads in Iraq.
“This program is important because it lays the foundation for an elite Iraqi unit,” said Capt. Peter Jacob, commander of Company A. “Students start at day one as an individual and come away at the end of this course as part of a team.”
The course is based on the U.S. Army’s Ranger training program established in 1951 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The goal of the program is simple: develop advanced warfighting skills within selected Iraqi army officers and enlisted personnel by requiring them to perform tasks in a realistic training environment.
Though based on the U.S. Army’s Ranger training program, Company A trainers sample aspects from other advanced programs as well.
“The program itself starts with a 21-day selection process similar to special forces selection,” said Jacob, himself a graduate of the U.S Army Ranger school. “It’s a [24-hour-a-day] operation where our cadre go out and validate each student no matter what the rank.”
This 21-day process helps narrow down the number of trainees as they start their multi-layered journey.
“You can already see the discipline of the Soldiers,” said 2nd Lt. Gregg Bernthal, a platoon leader in Company A. “The selection process weeds out those who do not have the intestinal fortitude to stay and fight. The separation from normal, basic soldiers is the rigorous selection process they go through to become Iraqi Rangers.”
The exhaustive selection process is just the beginning. Candidates proceed to the next of many levels designed to challenge them.
“There are exercises done to test memory and intellect and the physical aspect along the lines of [U.S Army] Ranger school where they will conduct various team building exercises,” said Bernthal. “The students also must be physically fit and be able to understand infantry tactics. Even if they make it through all of the physical and intellectual challenges, they still have to participate in a selection board at the end of selection. The board reviews performance throughout the class and a panel of U.S. and Iraqi officials determine the eligibility of the candidate.”
After selection is complete students move into advanced individual training, said Bernthal. In AIT, students refine their skills in classes led by their trainers. To pass, exercises, such as the rifle qualification range, they must meet U.S. Army standards.
“[AIT] is a program that begins the training from basic rifle marksmanship all the way to a culminating event,” said Jacob. “The culminating event includes live-fire exercises as teams, squads, and platoons.”
With AIT under their belts ranger students are split into specialty training, which includes advanced marksmanship, sniper training, medical training and heavy weapons training, said Jacob. After specialty training they move back out to their units.
During one training exercise students took the lead and taught a room clearing class to each other, while American trainers watched. They practiced on glass houses and then on the next day moved to room clearing in an actual building.
As Company A produces more and more Iraqi rangers, the importance of the building partner capacity mission is apparent – especially as ISF continue its push to retake territory from Da’esh, said Bernthal.
“[Iraqi rangers are] go-getters, and I think that in itself is a success story,” said Bernthal. “Having well-trained leaders is going to be extremely important in the fight. Because Da’esh has been dug in for so long now, the Iraqis are going to have to think on their toes. There’s going to be a lot of different situations that they find themselves in. Good training is always something that the Iraqi soldiers in this course will be able to fall back on.”