ESIAWID, Iraq --
Fifteen Marines live cramped into two small rooms in a school that has been converted into the headquarters of an Iraqi Army battalion.
The Marines, members of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division Military Transition Team, have been living, working, eating, sleeping and fighting alongside their Iraqi counterparts since arriving in Iraq four months ago.
The team deployed along with their battalion to Diyala at the beginning of January this year to assist the 5th Iraqi Army Division and Coalition forces in clearing terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq from their strongholds in the province.
And just like their recent success in providing security and stability in the areas around Ramadi and Habbaniyah in al-Anbar, the 2nd Battalion is making a difference here in Diyala.
“When we got here in January the souks [marketplaces] were closed. Now they’re all open,” said Maj John E. Orille, 2nd Battalion MiTT senior adviser.
The MiTT’s role is to advise and mentor their Iraqi counterparts to give them the tools and experience they need to take greater responsibilities for planning and executing their own operations.
“This is part of the plan to get us out of Iraq,” said Hospitalman Chief Randy E. Swan, 2nd Battalion MiTT medical adviser/liason.
The 2nd Battalion has been working with transition teams since 2004 and the current team can see the effect of that partnership in the progress that the battalion has made.
“These guys are so good they don’t need a lot of advising,” said GySgt Joshua L. Draper, 2nd Battalion MiTT logistics advisor and staff non-commissioned officer-in-charge.
The only thing the battalion would really lose if the MiTT were to leave would be the enabling support, like explosive ordnance disposal and fire-support according to 1stLt Jimmy W. Lindemann, 2nd Battalion MiTT maneuver and training adviser.
“They can plan and execute battalion sized operations on their own,” said Orille. Because the Iraqi battalion is so effective, the advisers find much of their role involves coordinating with other coalition units to provide the support the battalion needs.
The team also spends the time to build the relationships and trust that are key to being an advisor. Every night the officers will sit down with their Iraqi counterparts over platters of home cooked Iraqi food and literally get their hands dirty together eating, drinking and watching television while they discuss the next days operations.
Several of the team members are taking the time to learn Arabic and improve their understanding of Iraqi culture. And their counterparts have welcomed the Marines into the battalion as well.
“A lot of them call us their brothers,” said 1st Lt Joshua C. Pringle, 2nd Battalion MiTT fires and effects adviser. “They treat us like family.”
“Our advisers help us very, very much,” said Capt Muhammad Karim Muhammad, 2nd Battalion operations officer. “Everyone respects them. We sit in the same chairs, we eat the same food. Our home is their home. We share our suffering. Anything that hurts us hurts them, and anything that hurts them hurts us.
Pringle, a native of Mesquite, TX, volunteered for the transition team. “I would recommend this to anyone who wants to experience something unique,” he said. “Being on the MiTT gives you a different perspective on Iraq.”
Working with the Iraqi Army is not without its frustrations, but Pringle says patience is an essential skill for any MiTT member.
“You have to accept that they will not be Marines,” he said. “You also need to be willing to learn from them and care about the mission.”
The battalion may not be Marines, but the team members have no concerns about living with them with and relying on them for security.
“They will not let anything happen to us,” said Pringle.
“We sleep very soundly,” agreed Swan.
And as operations in Diyala wind-down for the 2nd Battalion, they are looking forward the opportunity to begin a regular training regimen that will allow them to progress even further towards complete independence.
“You can only get them to be as good as they want to be,” said Lindemann. And if the success the battalion has seen both here in Diyala, and back in al-Anbar is any indication, the 2nd Battalion wants to be very good indeed. That is something both team members and Iraqi soldiers alike can be proud of.
“Spending a year a way from my wife and son is worthwhile because I know that we’re making a difference for these people,” said Pringle. That is a sentiment that is echoed by the Iraqis.
“Anyone who comes from far away to help the people of Iraq – their heart is pure,” said Muhammed. “God save them and their families. I wish them good health and long life.”