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Eglin Airmen train Iraqi police

by 2nd Lt. Alyson Smith
96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

10/13/2005 - BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFPN) -- The introduction of democracy and the reconstruction of Iraq hinges on its police force’s ability to handle those fighting against the transition.

So two Airmen from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and one from Offutt AFB, Neb., are in the country to make sure the Iraqi police force gets the training it needs.

First Lieutenant A.W. Rittgers and Master Sgt. Anthony Miller are in Iraq on a one-year deployment as part of a five-man military assistance and training team. They are advising an Iraqi military police battalion of about 1,100 people.

“We’re doing our best to teach the Iraqis how to be professional soldiers,” Lieutenant Rittgers said.

The team is training the Iraqis to conduct vehicle searches and establish entry control and tactical control points -- while showing them the proper equipment to use and wear. The joint team of advisers lives with the U.S. Army on an Iraqi compound within the base.

Sergeant Miller is deployed from his job as chief of non-lethal weapons at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center. Lieutenant Rittgers was a section commander in the 96th Security Forces Squadron.

Ironically, the lieutenant said, he and Sergeant Miller had never met before their deployment, despite working across the parking lot from each other at Eglin.

Sergeant Miller and Tech. Sgt. Shawn Carter from Offutt, established a 10-day military police training academy covering entry control and tactical control points; AK-47 weapons training; tower observation procedures; squad-level tactics; and personnel, vehicle and area searches. They expect to put 30 students through the training at a time.

The sergeants have 36 years of experience between them. Lieutenant Rittgers said he can already see the positive influence they’re having on the Iraqi military policemen. They are also training Iraqis on how to conduct armory operations.

But teaching the Iraqis to be professional soldiers is not easy, Lieutenant Rittgers said. Because most of the Iraqis have had very little formal training, with skill levels equivalent to an Airman straight out of technical school.

“Our challenge is to develop them and take them further, and we’re doing the best we can with what we have,” Lieutenant Rittgers said.

The people on the assistance and training team rotate on-call duty, and every time the Iraqis respond to a security incident, one of them goes along. They are not yet fully confident that the Iraqis can handle everything on their own.

Lieutenant Rittgers is the officer-in-charge of the base’s south gate, which is located on a main supply route and is the only gate exclusively used by Iraqi military, civilians and contractors. This gate gets the most traffic, he said. About 300 vehicles and thousands of people pass through there daily. He supervises about 120 personnel, a mixture of Iraqi MPs, civilian contractors and a few coalition forces.

The lieutenant hopes that he’ll soon do strictly advising instead of operations.

The biggest threats the Airmen face are from deadly, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices and small arms fire. The troops remain in a heightened state of awareness since the Iraqis vote on their new constitution Oct. 15.

The vote on the constitution is one more step in the journey to a new Iraq.

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