An Inside Look at Training Iraqi Soldiers
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to the training of Iraqi government troops and, in particular, noncommissioned officers, that is, Sergeants. To do that, we contacted one base in northern Iraq. Sergeant Major Walter Murrell is responsible for training Iraqi troops at the Forward Operating Base in Qayyarah, known to U.S. soldiers stationed there as Q-West. And he joins me on the phone. Hello, good morning.
Sergeant Major WALTER MURRELL (Forward Operating Base at Qayyarah, Iraq): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: What is the key lesson or few lessons you aim to get across to Iraqis coming to you?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: What we're trying to instill into the young Iraqi Security Force soldier really falls down into our same warrior ethos, and that is that they understand what duty is, what honor is, service to country, selfless service. Once they see what this is all about then they start excepting their responsibilities as a volunteer soldier in Iraqi Security Force more seriously.
MONTAGNE: You are training noncommissioned officers, given their role, what is critical about that training and about what they have to do, maybe in comparison to commissioned officers or infantry?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: The critical aspect of training that they need to bring back to their units, is that they are the trainers of the young Jundies(ph), of the young privates and they have to believe in that and they have to assume that role as the trainers. It cannot be the junior officers, which it has been for so many years, and it cannot be the senior officers, which it has been for so many years. It has to be the junior noncommissioned officer that steps up and assumes the role as the trainer and takes responsibility.
MONTAGNE: When you first got there when this training first started out, what were the weak spots that you found with the Iraqi's who were coming to you to be trained as noncommissioned officers?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: One of the things that the past units had not been training is what we call the warrior task, the U.S. Army combative, pugil training.
MONTAGNE: Pugil training?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: Pugil training, with pugil sticks and full-body gear and head gear and aggressive military training that brings the warrior spirit out in young soldiers, that, a fighting spirit.
MONTAGNE: So that was a weak spot, any others?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: The only other weak spot is the ability to have the training facilities to do the training that needed to be conducted. We actually built a makeshift traffic control point that looks just like one downtown, so the soldiers would see how their supposed to react to different vehicles going through for vehicle inspections and personal inspections in the environment that their going to be in when they leave the academy.
MONTAGNE: And those traffic control spots, those are often quite dangerous and intense places?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: Absolutely. It is very critical and the decisions that are made at a specific point in time at a traffic control point could actually save lives or make the wrong decision and somebody could lose their life. Yes, you're absolutely right.
MONTAGNE: Are you concerned at all about training, as you train soldiers with a commitment to serving the Iraqi Military, there are also among them insurgents or alternately soldiers loyal to militias, that you might also be training?
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: No, that has never crossed my mind, because if that was in the back of our mind as trainers we wouldn't be able to provide the best quality training for the Iraqi Army. And the process that these young sergeants, the young Jundies(ph), the young privates, go through before they are selected by their commanders and sergeant majors to come to the course, I have faith in the chain of command for the Iraqi battalions, that they are sending the best qualified Sergeants and Jundies to go through the training here at the academy.
MONTAGNE: Sergeant Major Walter Morrell, thank you very much for spending the time to talk with us.
Sgt. Maj. MURRELL: Okay, you too. Bye-bye.
MONTAGNE: Sergeant Major Walter Murrell is responsible for training both Iraqi troops and sergeants at the Ford Operating Base at Qayyarah, Iraq. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.