With 25 years as Emergency Medical Services Captain at Jacksonville Fire Rescue, Command Sgt. Major Robert Lane is used to dealing with crisis and making sacrifices. Lane deployed to Iraq, where he leads the Professional Development Standards Team in Camp Taji, 30 kilometers north of Baghdad.
With a wife and two children in Lake City, Lane estimates his return in May or June. He communicated with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan recently to share his experience with training the Iraqi Army and highlighted the incredible risks Iraqis take to support their country.
Tell us about your assignment: My assignment entails the restructuring, standardization and evaluation of the initial Basic Combat Training and MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) for the initial entry Iraqi soldier. This task will directly affect the train-up of the mandated 30,000 Iraqi soldiers as part of the prime minister's expansion plans as well as the retraining of Iraqi soldiers already in the New Iraqi Army.
How do you "standardize" training? The standardization process was implemented because soldiers were arriving from the different training bases to units throughout Iraq with different levels of competency and capability for fighting. The unit commanders were faced with the need to place these basic soldiers directly into battle with little time available to add to or train-up these soldiers to be successful.
The standards we set for the Basic Iraqi Soldier's training covers five basic areas of training: shoot, move, communicate, first aid and drill and ceremony
Do coalition members or Iraqis conduct training? The training is totally conducted by Iraqi instructors. Coalition advisors have stepped down from the duties of instructors and now provide assistance to the Iraqi instructors as needed.
How would you evaluate the level of training? The training the Jundi (Iraqi for soldier) receive provides them with the competence and capabilities to enter into the battlefield as a functional soldier. They have the capability to address the situations that they face on the battlefield.
Tell us about the Iraqi Army's training. Is it similar to ours in the United States and should it be? The Basic Training has been restructured and standardized for the entry level soldier. It is very comparable to the U.S. level of training. However, you have to realize, that some of the Jundi do not read. This is a result of the lack of education that enlisted soldiers were required to have in the old Iraqi Army. This is being addressed in the new Iraqi Army and I feel with time this problem will be eliminated. The U.S. Army has higher standards for entry into the service, but we also have a totally different social structure to recruit from.
Do you think our presence makes a difference? Can the government stabilize and be effective? The presence of American soldiers as well as coalition soldiers does make a difference here. At the present level of stability, the coalition presence is needed. We represent what the future of Iraq can have and become.
The government of Iraq has the ability to stabilize this country. I feel that it will take a decisive military drive from the Iraqi and coalition forces to achieve this. I feel that the effectiveness of this government will depend on the how fast the country is stabilized and the reconstruction of the infrastructure takes place.
We read about increased casualties, violence and American deaths, what are the challenges in your area of responsibility? This country is a war zone. Every time you leave the FOB (Forward Operation Base), you are at risk for injury or death. I fly for the better part of my travels and there are inherent risks associated in that mode of travel. Some aircraft have received ground fire, but for the most part flights are uneventful.
How are you treated by the local people and what's their reaction to Americans? Most of my exposure to the Iraqi citizen has been with the interpreters assigned to the Regional Training Center. These people risk their lives and families by working with the coalition forces. Each time these people come to work or assist the advisers with a new Jundi training class, they run the chance of being recognized and either they or their family members may pay the price.
One of the interpreters here at TAJI suffered the death of his brother and nephew because they had once worked for the coalition forces. Yet, they return to work to assist us in the training. This is the only way that they have to provide support for their families. Soldiers have been murdered by insurgent death squads just for being in the military. Yet they stay and yes, they are fighting for their country. One must understand that it is a few who are hurting the future of the many.
The average Iraqi citizen wants basic survival needs: food, water, electricity, employment and security. All mankind needs these to survive. They see Americans as the country that can solve and fix all problems. We are the hope and future for Iraq.
The Tribune arranges these interviews with service members through U.S. Central Command. MyLinh Shattan can be reached at mylinh@mylinh shattan.com.