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Vanguard Soldiers train Iraqis on M1A1 tank

Feb 4, 2011

By Spc. William K. Ermatinger

BAGHDAD (Feb. 4, 2011) -- The "Desert Lions" of Iraq's 34th Mechanized Brigade are now training with U.S. Soldiers to learn M1A1 Abrams tank skills at Camp Taji, Iraq.

Since its reconstitution in 2003, the 9th Iraqi Army Division has used salvaged Russian T-72 tanks. Now, with cooperation from the United States, the division is taking a major step into the future by switching to the U.S.-designed M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.

"The new equipment (will help) the civilian population see the Iraqi Army's strength and success," said 1st Lt. Najah Dakhel, a platoon leader with 34th Mech. Bde., 9th IA Div.

His Iraqi tankers are now training with Soldiers from the 1st "Vanguard" Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Advise and Assist Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, United States Division - Center.

Sgt. 1st Class Philemon Jones, with Company A, 1st-18th Inf., supervised the basic tank training class for the 9th IA Div. with help from Sgt. Craig Davis.

"It's been rewarding to have Soldiers who are genuinely excited about the tanks, who have been working with older equipment," Davis said. "They are excited to have something new and different, and they are very eager to learn."

Najah said all of his Soldiers had prior experience on the T-72, and three had previous M1A1 experience, including him. That experience came from officer training required of all officers in the 9th IA Div.

Najah, several linguists, and Soldiers with Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt. worked together to teach the basics about the M1A1 tanks to the new Soldiers of the 9th IA Div.

The two-week basic tank training included a mix of classroom and hands-on lessons. Safety, maintenance and operations were some of the topics covered. The crew with the best performance was awarded a plaque at graduation.

This class broke with tradition by cross-training the crewmen in multiple positions to further their understanding of the tank's functions and capabilities. Iraqi tank crewmen traditionally trained and worked one position for their entire military careers. The Iraqi Soldiers still plan to hold a single position, but the training has changed to facilitate crew member modularity, in case a crew member needs to fill another position in the tank at a moment's notice.

After the basic tank training at Camp Taji is complete, the 34th Mech. Bde. will conduct advanced training at Besmaya Range in eastern Iraq.

"Advanced training in everything they need to do as a crewman and everything they need to do as a crew in order to fight with the tanks," Jones said. "I think when they go to Besmaya, they will see the results of this training. They will be able to focus more on the crew tasks instead of individual tasks.

Jones said with U.S. forces scheduled to withdraw from Iraq at the end of this year under the current Status of Forces Agreement, ensuring continued training is a priority.

"The basic momentum behind the class is also training cadre that are from the Iraqi Army to teach future classes," Jones said.

There are a few wrinkles to iron out in the training process, however. Terminology and the language barrier are formidable obstacles, but "Vanguard" Soldiers are working on them.

"The tank terminology we have is not necessarily the tank terminology the Iraqis have used," Davis said.

Company A, 1st Bn., 18th Inf. Regt., 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div. is on schedule to finish training the rest of the 34th Brigade, 9th Iraqi Army Division. Plans for future training are based on the needs and requests from the Iraqi Army.

(Spc. William K. Ermatinger serves with the 2nd AAB, 1st Inf. Div., USD-C.)

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