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Airmen help train Iraqi soldiers

by Laura Hunt
49th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

1/19/2005 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFPN)  -- A professional military education instructor had to overcome a language barrier, an unfamiliar curriculum and a trust issue with his students to contribute to the development of a new nation.

Master Sgt. Mark Leuquire was one of 28 Air Force instructors deployed to Iraq to train noncommissioned officers of the new Iraqi army on leadership and management principles.

At least that is what he said he thought he would be training them on.

When he arrived at Kirkush Military Training Base, Iraq, about 25 miles from the Iranian border, he said he discovered he would be teaching an Army lesson plan under a joint coalition of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. The plan included training the soldiers on the AK-47 assault weapon, land navigation, map reading, first aid, Army physical training, combat maneuvers and other tactics Sergeant Leuquire said he had little experience with himself.

"We were under Army command, and so they said, 'You're an instructor, aren't you? Here's the lesson plan. Read it. You're teaching it," Sergeant Leuquire said. "The Army instructors were teaching this curriculum to the Soldiers of the U.S. Army, and their philosophy was if it works, why reinvent the wheel."

Army officials broke the instructors and students into six companies. Each company was made up of four platoons, and there were 32 students in each platoon. Sometimes instructors would train their platoon separately, and other times a company would work together.

Sergeant Leuquire said students were first taught how to fire and clean their weapons in a classroom and then were taken into the field to put what they learned to the test. During these lessons, he said he often faced communication problems.

"I'm an Air Force guy, trying to teach Army curriculum to an Iraqi soldier, and I'm being interpreted by a Jordanian officer," Sergeant Leuquire said. "Several of the Iraqi soldiers were Kurdish, so my lessons were translated into Arabic and then into Kurdish."

Though communication was a serious issue, a bigger issue was trust, Sergeant Leuquire said. Security officials told the instructors there was a high probability of infiltrators gathering information and bringing it back to Iraqi insurgents. To be safe, the instructors carried weapons.

"At first we didn't trust them, and they certainly didn't trust us," he said. "Once we stressed heavily that we carried the weapons for their safety, because we didn't know if any insurgents were among them, they realized that the weapon wasn't to scare or intimidate them."

The prison scandal at Abu Ghraib was exposed shortly after the instructors started training the soldiers. The instructors were very careful to be fair to the soldiers and to respect their culture, Sergeant Leuquire said.

"We were not to do anything demeaning, belittling or harassing in any way," he said. "We processed them as if it were a basic training NCO camp."

This included searching them at the entrances, shaving their heads, in processing, uniform inspections and administering pay on payday. The instructors also included time for prayer in the curriculum.

Sergeant Leuquire said after a class graduated, some of the best students were asked to remain at the base to train future Iraqi soldiers, which made training a little easier.

"When you say to a student, 'You need to do this and do it now," after all the translation it may come off a little more sensitive and less urgent than intended," Sergeant Leuquire said. "The Iraqi instructors would say it exactly how we intended it."

In his six months in Iraq, Sergeant Leuquire and the other instructors taught four classes each with more than 2,500 soldiers graduating.

Though he went to Iraq with the feeling he would not accomplish much, Sergeant Leuquire said he believes he and the other instructors made a difference.

"On our way out of Iraq, we drove past villages and saw people on the sides of the roads waving. They were healthy; they looked well-kept; they looked happy," he said. "Just seeing that, I knew we did something. We helped in the mission to get them into an environment where they can train their own soldiers and be self-sustaining."

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