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Airmen help Iraqi army take control of base operations

by Staff Sgt. Stacia Zachary
U.S. Air Forces Central combat camera

9/3/2009 - CAMP UR, Iraq (AFNS) -- Operations continue as normal at Camp Ur. The focus remains the same: keep the base running and the mission on target.

Iraqi army soldiers routinely work with their U.S. counterparts, but one important difference now is that the Iraqis have taken command of the controls.

"It's a historic time for anyone serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Lt. Col. Steven Ramsay, the Tallil Logistics Military Advisory Team senior adviser. "We have committed to turning over all operations to the Iraqi people and they are committed to taking over and succeeding."

Colonel Ramsay and his logistics military advisory team are tasked with providing the guidance and training necessary to turn all tasks associated with a typical mission support group over into a completely Iraqi-run operation.

"If you take your traditional mission support group and break those roles down and divide it among 10 people to advise and train others on, well, it's quite a large responsibility for so few people, especially considering there are cultural, language and logistical barriers to overcome," Colonel Ramsay said.

Less than a year ago, Iraq was teaming with coalition forces controlling much of the operations conducted here. Now; however, combat brigades have relinquished control to the local government and mentoring teams have taken on a larger role to support the end objective of withdrawing from the country after restoring it to a stronger and more self-sufficient version of itself.

"Anyone who was a part of this war a few years ago would barely recognize our daily routine," the colonel said. "Not that long ago, we were still the driving force behind most of the work here. Airmen and Soldiers were the ones doing supply runs, convoys, administering medical care and the Iraqis took a backseat to those operations while they focused on building their own military. The circumstances are now reversing."

One method of reversing the past circumstances is creating mentoring teams to help ease the shift of control. The 10 person team is responsible now for oversight and advisement of Iraqi military operations here.

"We're really here just to help them hammer out the small problems that go along with the daily grind," said Tech. Sgt. Scott Preston, the vehicle maintenance adviser. "Our goal is to let them figure out the problems, come up with possible solutions and set them in motion with as little direction from us as possible."

Although every team member has a primary role they advise the Iraqi Army on, they have also adapted and taken on more roles to advise on outside of the traditional skill set.

"The Iraqis are looking to us to give them training and answer questions they have on anything ranging from how to keep a vehicle running to how to fix generators to water purification," Sergeant Preston explained. "There aren't enough of us here to be specialized in all things related to mission support and answering 'I don't know' isn't an option. So, we reach back to support people at COB Adder or back at our homestations and get them the answers the Iraqis need."

A typical day for the advisors is to convoy out to the Iraqi Army Location Command and check in with all their counterparts. After grounding their gear, the team sets out to find their Iraqi counterparts and get a back brief on how operations are going. Before long, the team has a laundry list of questions and concerns to check into.

For Tech. Sgt. Fred Wooldridge, the Logistics Military Advisory Team adviser on services, getting the appropriate resources to rebuild or improve existing infrastructure is a continuing challenge.

There are several dining facilities here - all of which are in need of some attention. A few months ago, the Iraqi soldiers were getting sick and the standards of food quality and hygiene in the kitchens were substandard. After careful consideration, Sergeant Wooldridge enlisted the help of the Iraqi Army base commanding general.

"The dining facilities need work and the best way to get the problem the attention it needs was to have the Iraqi Army's leadership experience it firsthand," he said. "Now, the general eats here once a week, the soldiers are no longer getting sick and morale has improved."

Since then, little contests have sprung up between the dining facilities.

"Now, there's a little rivalry between the kitchens to see who has the better DFAC," he said. "If one place gets a TV, the other place has to have music. If one kitchen gets a meat room, the other kitchen needs cold storage. And, while they're outdoing themselves, the places are improving in quality."

Variations of the same story exist everywhere on base. Getting energy to efficiently and predictably flow on base is another source of continuous effort.

"Right now, keeping the generators running to power the buildings on base is a huge priority," said Tech. Sgt. James Cook, the Logistics Military Advisory Team NCO in charge and fuels adviser.

Currently, the base runs on generators that are fueled by diesel. While there are five generators here, only one is running while another is used as back up and the other three are broken. The ultimate goal is to get a power line running from the city of Nasiryah to the military base, but in the meantime getting all generators in working condition is the primary objective.

As the Iraqi soldiers begin to take the lead on the mechanics of keeping the base running efficiently, a new focus all team members are trying to bring center stage is the need for better documentation.

"Getting the administrative side of operations streamlined is the one of the biggest challenges we're facing right now," said Sergeant Preston, deployed from the 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. "Getting a more organized system in place to track supplies will dramatically increase their ability to plan and prepare according to the needs the are facing now and well in the future."

The advisers are continually suggesting and teaching alternative methods to getting any given job done. Some advice is received with enthusiasm while others are met with natural cynicism for anything new.

A challenge for many of the advisors is allowing the Iraqis to work through particular problems and come up with their own solutions, said Sergeant Wooldridge.

"The Iraqis have their own approach to getting a job done," Sergeant Preston added. "My job is to get them to embrace new methods and incorporate them into daily practice."

When asked what their goal at the end of their year-long tour is, the team all agree providing the Iraqis the means to meet any challenge and overcome it on their own and be self-sufficient is prime.

"Ultimately, our mission is to work ourselves out of a job," said Sergeant Cook, deployed from the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan. "In the end, we're helping the Iraqis work effectively without our help or oversight. For the most part, the Iraqis are already doing this, we're just helping them improve the quality of life and ability to do everything in-house."

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