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Drivers ed: 656th trains Iraqis to run their own transportation missions
Blackanthem Military News ^ | May 21, 2007 | Amy May, Crier Staff Reporter

Posted on 05/21/2007 5:53:43 PM PDT by mdittmar

Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Freeman from Evansville, Ind. of the 656th Transportation Company, is greeted by his daughter upon his return from Iraq at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center on April 24. (Photo by Sgt 1st Class Scott Hardesty)

CAMP ATTERBURY, Indiana - While the Soldiers of the 656th Transportation Co. (Rebuild) were in Iraq hauling fuel to the various forward operating bases, they were also giving members of the Iraqi Army some driving lessons.

Master Sgt. Travis Dail was one of the 150 members of the Jeffersonville-based Army Reserve Unit tasked to drive M915s in Iraq. Once he got to Iraq, however, he was approached by members of the Military Transition Team and asked to serve as noncommissioned officer-in-charge of a 16- person unit that would train Iraqi soldiers.

Part of the U.S. military’s mission in Iraq has been to train members of the Iraqi security and police forces so the nation can defend itself. That includes not only teaching combat skills, but the administrative and military support skills also needed in an army.

Dail’s team taught two motor transport units, about 1,300 Iraqis, to conduct the combat logistical patrols mission. It was a challenge at first, he said. “Very few of them even knew how to drive. We had to teach them from scratch  the pedals, lights. And we had to do that through interpreters,” Dail said.

They created a road course with obstacles to help the Iraqis master steering and braking the uparmored Humvees and Russian semis, tankers and wreckers. Then, the Iraqis learned to drive in a convoy and react to small arms fire and IED threats, as well as the concepts of rules of engagement and escalation of force.

Once the Iraqis learned to drive the trucks, their training was similar to the training an American Soldier receives, Dail said.

They had to qualify on weapons, as well as learn to deal with the various threats faced by a military convoy.

“They learned it all. They actually picked it up pretty quickly. The Ministry of Defense expected this to take a year, but it only took six months. They got right to work after being validated,” Dail said.

Another challenge was coming up with a training regimen, Dail said.

“We had two days notice before we were packing our bags and heading out. We had to put a whole training plan together. We used a lot of U.S. doctrine and drew from our own mobilization experience.”

The Iraqi transportation units will mainly haul goods for the Iraqi Army, although they may combine with Coalition Soldiers for some missions, Dail said.

There are now three Iraqi transportation units. Dail’s team and members of the 656th trained two of them.

The main mission for the 656th, however, was hauling fuel to power vehicles and generators at the FOBs in central Iraq. The unit encountered IEDs, like many transportation companies do, and earned more than 50 Combat Action Badges, but it did not suffer a single casualty.

1st Sgt. Robert Driver credits that success to three factors: the leadership, the extensive training before deployment and the hard work once they arrived in Iraq.

“This unit is very top heavy. We have a lot more NCOs. I was handed a very good team.

They were motivated, hard-working and there was a huge amount of sacrifices on their part.”

Much of the sacrificing came during the training, which was necessary to build cohesion among the Soldiers and learn the transportation mission.

They attended two-week crash courses at various installations around the country for a September 2005 deployment.

“That was a huge help for us, for the Soldiers being able to work together. You hear a lot about Soldiers who meet each other at the mobe station.”

The deployment date was pushed back, so the 656th was able to get even more training.

“We ended up with two years worth of training in one year,” Driver said.

Once they arrived in Iraq in May 2006, they were greeted by a broken down, neglected fleet of trucks. Equipment failure is a risk to the Soldiers on the road in Iraq, Driver said. “If our trucks are sitting out there broken down, they become a target.”

The unit’s 18 mechanics worked nonstop to get the trucks in top shape and install communications systems. “They did three years of service in the first few months there. Lots of long hours and hard work contributed to our success,” Driver said.

Although convoys used to drive fast and at night, that is changing, Driver said. Insurgents are using more pressure-activated bombs, a device similar to a landmine, instead of the bombs that require a person with a remote detonator.

It makes more sense to drive in the daytime and more slowly. “You have to be able to see the IED to avoid it. Driving 100 mph, you can’t see it,” Driver said.

The Army changes its tactics and training to respond to new threats in the theater of operations. Camp Atterbury was also very responsive to the Soldiers’ advice, Driver said. For example, in the 656th’s after-action review, the Soldiers commented that the trucks used for training were not similar to the ones they would be driving in Iraq.

That was changed, Driver said, before his unit returned in April. “Now that we’re back here, we see they’re driving with loads,” he said. “It’s comforting to us … the things we’ve brought to First Army and Camp Atterbury’s attention, they’ve been fixed. They can better prepare the next Soldiers that are going over.”

Driver and other members of the unit plan to stay at Atterbury for the Operation Warrior Trainer Program.

The biggest challenge for trainers, he said, is that things change so fast in Iraq that what they teach may be out-of-date by the time the next unit gets over there.

Nevertheless, the outgoing troops, who he considers “combat” Soldiers, should be ready for anything. Truck drivers no longer operate in a safe “green zone.”

“Basically, the perimeter of Iraq, everything in it is the front line.

There are combat Soldiers. We drove on some of the worst roads in the hottest areas of Iraq. These Soldiers have been in it.”


TOPICS: Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; US: Indiana; War on Terror
Here's to unsung Heroes,For those who have served,and are serving now to keep us free.
Thank you.
1 posted on 05/21/2007 5:53:45 PM PDT by mdittmar
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