AL-ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq --
Over the last year, the Iraqi Army has been instrumental in improving the security and stability of al-Anbar province. One of the keys to their success has been the willingness of Marines to live, work, sleep, eat and fight side-by-side with their Iraqi counterparts.
But the reduction in violence here in Anbar over the last year has allowed Coalition Forces in the province to focus on building the Iraqi Army into a force capable of sustaining the peace on their own.
"We're focused less on the kinetic now and more on the development of the Iraqis’ ability to fight a counter-insurgency," said Marine Col. Robert F. Castellvi, 1st Iraqi Army Division Military Transition Team commanding officer and senior adviser.
Starting from the top and working its way down, the 45 man strong MiTT team is shaping the 1st IA Division into a fine fighting force led and staffed by Iraqis who have volunteered to take on the challenge of shaping and protecting their nation’s security.
Castellvi, originally from Chicago, Ill., not only leads the team, but is also a close adviser to Maj. Gen. Tarik al-Azzawi, the 1st Iraqi Army Div. commanding general.
"I'm someone who can provide a different prospective to (Gen. Tarik) based on my experience," Castellvi said. "He can confide in me and ask me questions he may not be able to ask another Iraqi."
The two often travel together from their headquarters at Camp Habbaniyah to visit 1st IA units operating throughout eastern al-Anbar. The comfortable social setting of these visits, with plenty of cigarettes and chai tea, can be deceiving, but they are essential for the both the 1st IA and the MiTT to accomplish their missions.
"These battlefield circulation tours allow the colonel and general to get out and visit the lower commands (of the IA Div.)," said Marine Maj. Robert S. Washington, the MiTT's asst. operations adviser from Houston, Tx. "It's very important for the staff to come along and advise as well," said Washington. All the members of this team have a certain area of expertise and are open to input better ideas."
Castellvi and Gen. Tarik also get together in order to advise each other, bounce ideas they have off one-another, in order to breed success.
"I told (Gen. Tarik) that if he succeeds, I succeed. And we both seem mutually concerned for each others success. I'm usually the last guy the general speaks to at night," Castellvi said. "It's a friendship thing, a bond. You know you're in an Iraqi’s circle of trust when he calls you a brother.
Unlike a Marine infantry battalion, this team is not here to conduct side-by-side operations. Castellvi and his team spend most of their time advising and mentoring their Iraqi counterparts. They rarely accompany the "Jundi," or Iraqi soldiers, on patrol, and if they do, they take a back seat and let the Iraqis run things themselves.
"They're stronger now than when I got here," said Castellvi about the 1st IA Div. "And that's amazing. If I can keep saying that then I can say, and know, that my team has been successful."
Castellvi has good reason for such optimism. The Iraqi Army in Al-Anbar is completing more and more independent operations and taking over much more of the province from Coalition Forces. "Winning this war is no longer us kicking down doors, dropping ordnance on a target or gaining intelligence to find Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” said Castellvi. “It's mentoring the Iraqis to do it independently and do it well."