| By Lance Cpl. Christopher Zahn,
Regimental Combat Team 6
CAMP HABBANIYAH — Coalition Forces have a new ally in Al Anbar Province. After many years of indecision and internal strife, the local populace has turned their back on Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. They have thrown their lot in with the Coalition Forces and together they are working to free the province from the clutches of terrorism.
Thousands of young men have picked up their rifles and taken control of their neighborhoods. These seemingly untrained, ragtag groups working without pay, proper equipment, or uniforms have been remarkably effective at filling crucial intelligence-gathering, patrol and checkpoint functions in parts of Al Anbar Province where there is an Iraqi force security vacuum.
To make them more effective, a group of Marines from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, are training them as part of a Iraqi Police (IP) Academy ‘Prep Course’.
“The purpose of the course is to take the guys who are out there (providing security) anyway and give them some training,” said Gunnery Sgt. Jason W. Armistead. “They’re out there doing the job; we at least want them to do it correctly and safely. It’s also a preparatory course for the IP Academy. It doesn’t take the place of it, but it helps to ensure their success.”
The first day of class began with a medical screening to ensure the prospective police officers are fit for duty. Once no debilitating medical conditions are found they are treated to a physical fitness test, Marine Corps-style.
The students lined up in formation, sweat already beginning to creep through their light blue shirts and feet nervously twitching in their oxford shoes and sandals. At the command ‘Go,’ they took off. Cpl. Sergio Grimaldo was in front of the pack, leading them around the track for the first part of the test, a 1500 meter run. One energetic recruit sped to the front passing Grimaldo and taking the lead. Grimaldo sped up, chasing the blue shirt in front of him. Neck and neck they flew down the road towards the final corner. Grimaldo took the turn with ease and applied the afterburners, leaving the police officer in his dust. He crossed the finish line first, followed by the exhausted Iraqi shortly after. The rest of the pack trickled in, all running hard and finishing strong.
“I was impressed to tell the truth,” said Grimaldo, a 22-year-old from Los Angeles. “I’m usually pretty good at running and to see him stay with me was impressive.”
Once the final student crossed the line, Armistead gave them a moment to catch their breath, congratulated them for their effort, and then moved on to the next portion of the test: Marine Corps pushups.
Sgt. Daniel L. Ferguson, 26, from Lorain, Ohio, demonstrated what a proper pushup looked like, then the Iraqis were given two minutes to do as many as they could. The instructors moved amongst the crowd motivating the Iraqis as they strained to push their bodies up and down. At the beep of the two minutes, they wearily stood up, satisfied in their effort. The instructors were pleased too, and they gave them a short break before the next exercise.
Ferguson again provided the demonstration for the final exercise: Marine Corps sit-ups. Two minutes were again put on the clock and the exhausted Iraqis began. The sight of instructors helping motivate their students was repeated again. After the final sit up was completed the students ran in formation back to the classroom.
“They either did really good, or really bad,” said Grimaldo. “A lot of them were out of shape and couldn’t even run a quarter mile, but some stayed up there and ran their butts off.”
Back in the classroom the students were given a chance to recover before given classes by Lance Cpl. Luis Garcia, one of the battalion’s armorers.
“I taught them weapons safety, and maintenance of their weapons,” said Garcia, 19, from Brooklyn, N.Y. “They really wanted to learn. You could tell that all of them were paying attention.”
With a visit to the firing range scheduled for the next day, weapons safety and maintenance would be the focus of the day’s lessons. There is no room for error with live ammunition, so the students had to learn and most importantly retain the knowledge. Luckily that wasn’t a problem.
“I didn’t see any one of them violate the safety rules,” added Garcia. “They all did what they were supposed to do.”
The second day of the course began with a visit to the firing range. They had been given a class on marksmanship fundamentals by Cpl. Paul A. West, 22, from Russell Springs, Ky., before they went to the range. They applied that knowledge by firing from the prone, kneeling and standing positions from distances up to 100 meters. They punched holes in paper with the proficiency their instructors expected.
“They shot real well at the range,” said West. “I wasn’t really surprised at how well they shot because they have been out there doing stuff and helping us out. But, some of them shot so good that it did surprise me.”
After the range it was back to the classroom where the students learned more about what it means to be an Iraqi policeman. They learned about ethics, democratic policing, how to run a vehicle checkpoint and patrolling, both mounted and on foot. The highlight for the students was the mounted patrolling.
“They really get motivated for that,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler F. Williams. “We give them the demonstration and all the instructors try to move as fast as we can and really motivate them. We’re running and jumping and sliding around and running back to the truck as fast as we can. They try to get just as motivated and move just as fast and do it the same way. They always want to do it again, there’s always something they could do different, but they’re really good at it.”
The instructors faced several difficult hurdles as they tried to educate the students. The two most important obstacles are the language barrier and illiteracy. To solve this, the instructors have an interpreter to help translate, but the majority of learning is done visually. The instructors demonstrate everything they teach, which enables everyone to learn.
“They pick up things much better if you show them,” added Armistead. “If you show them one time they’re good. The language barrier is almost a plus, because we can’t tell them a whole lot, but we can show them everything.”
Another obstacle, the sharing of information, is cultural.
“If they know something they keep it, so they have the upper hand on everyone else,” said Armistead. “Our culture in the Marine Corps is, the more people you teach the better off the Marine Corps is and the more respect you get.”
One of the biggest obstacles the instructors thought they would have to deal with was punctuality, but it was not an issue. The students are waiting at the police station every morning for their ride to Habbaniyah. Showing up on time is just another indicator of how dedicated they are to learning how to defend their communities.
“That’s their sincerity,” added Armistead. “They really want to do it so they’re not going to screw around.”
The students pride was evident on graduation day. As they filed past and received their certificate of completion, their faces beamed with accomplishment. At the end of the ceremony they raised the Iraqi flag high and channeled their pride and satisfaction into song.
“They’re very proud that they made it through the course,” said Ferguson. “They’re motivated to be out in their community doing what they’re doing.”
After graduation, the students are back on the streets of their hometown working to make their home safe. Most of them will be accepted into the Iraqi Police Academy, where they will build upon their knowledge and become more effective police officers. Classes like this will hopefully serve as a model for the rest of Al Anbar province as more and more citizens join the fight against murder and intimidation.
According to Armistead, fighting for their homes is a motivation beyond a paycheck, or a uniform, it is a commitment to a better future.
“You can definitely tell the difference between the guy who’s motivated to take care of his family by getting a paycheck, and the guy who’s motivated to keep his house from getting blown up and his people getting shot,” Armistead added.