Brothers In Arms
In Fallujah, U.S. Marine advisers are trying to develop a few good men
All Army recruits, including the Fallujah force, go through a basic six-week training course. The military claims it has so far trained and equipped 169,000 soldiers with a goal of having a 240,000-man Army a year from now. But "trained" is a relative term in Iraq. The marines in Fallujah say the "trained" recruits are very raw. Indeed, they run them through another two weeks of training in Fallujah before putting them on the street. In other parts of the country, Iraqi troops have reported that they face suspicions from American soldiers. But in Fallujah, the Iraqi jundi who speak English say they believe they get respect from the Americans, at least the ones living at their bases. First Lt. Kahdim Ali Kahdim, a battalion surgeon, cites a strong friendship with the Marine advisers. "I am trying to learn how the American officers think," he says. "I follow their suggestions, and I suggest things too. We try to find the best way for success for all."
There are two groups of marines that work with the Iraqi military in Fallujah: the Marine advisers, like Huggins, who live in the Iraqi compounds with the jundi; and the Marine rifle companies that have formal responsibility for securing Fallujah. Huggins has the fit physique and military haircut of a central casting marine, but he has an easy, if sometimes wry, smile that puts his Iraqi tutees at ease. Whenever something involving the Iraqi military goes out of kilter, he smiles and says: "You just can't make this stuff up." He possesses the most important attribute for a military adviser: patience. The Marine riflemen split their attention between conducting their own operations and training the Iraqis, and some advisers complain that the training mission sometimes gets shortchanged. Often infantrymen will not include Iraqis while they plan operations--for fear that advance word will leak out. And the riflemen may show less patience and understanding than the advisers.
In the morning sun last week, a group of Marine combat engineers, part of the rifle company, trained a group of Iraqi jundi to erect fences made of sharp concertina wire. It is the first class the engineers have taught for the Iraqis, and these marines are not impressed. "The biggest problem is the work ethic. I am used to working with marines, and marines have a different attitude," says 1st. Lt. Robert Spalla. "In the afternoon when it gets hot, the Iraqis start to whine. It is a challenge."
Night shift. By western standards, many of the raw Iraqi recruits are slackers. But there is a cultural difference at play. In the Middle East, activity stops during the hottest part of the day. And at midnight, when the primary Marine Corps shift is heading to bed, the Iraqi command posts are frequently abuzz with activity. Staff Sgt. Tom McCarty, one of the American advisers, says it is hard for many of the marines to grasp that there is an Iraqi way of doing things. Some Iraqi habits, McCarty says, should be discouraged, even if they cannot be stopped--like slipping away from post to shop at the market. But in some cases, McCarty says, the marines could learn something from the Iraqis. Though marines refuse to allow any civilians to walk past a foot patrol, the Iraqi Intervention Force patrols refuse to stop women or children. "In some ways I think the IIF have the right idea," McCarty says. "You want to interfere with the local populace as little as possible." Proximity has earned the Iraqi troops some measure of respect: "These guys are about the bravest guys around," McCarty says as he walks on patrol with the jundi . "Most guys don't see that because of the ugly-American mentality. Some guys never get beyond the bad Iraqi BO or the fact that these guys eat with their hands. But here, it's me and one other marine; my life depends on them. And I sleep good at night knowing these guys will protect me."