While visiting 1st Brigade a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Mini-NCO Academy that they had set up with the help of their MiTT Team. It was one of those experiences that really gives one hope.
As anyone who knows anything about the military will tell you, Non-Commissioned Officers(NCO's) are the core of any competent military force. Most of the outside world knows them as "Sergeants." In the US Army, it is said that NCO's are "the backbone of the Army," and it is true. Tough, competent, professional NCO's are what the Iraqi Army has been lacking for many years. The culture of the old Iraqi Army was one of an aristocratic officer corps and subservient but tightly controlled enlisted force with no real NCO corps in the middle. NCO's are indispensable to conducting fluid, decentralized, fast-moving operations that the US Military is known for. In this little NCO Academy, of which 1st Brigade is very proud, Iraqi Sergeants are taught professionalism, leadership, ethics, initiative, map reading, training concepts and planning, to name a few of the courses. This Academy was the brain-child of SFC R. of the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Brigade. He saw the need and took the initiative to fill it. When the Academy was first set up, SFC R. and the rest of the MiTT Team were teaching all of the courses. Now, the courses are taught exclusively by Iraqi NCO Instructors. Several of these instructors are female. One of the most important things that is infused in these NCO candidates is to think on their feet and take the initiative rather than waiting for orders from an officer. Infusing a sense of initiative is one of the hardest things to develop here. I experience that difficulty almost every day in dealing with Colonels that don't want to budge unless the General tells them to. This Academy is a great start. As we stood at the back of the classroom watching one of the classes being taught by a graduate of the Academy, I thought to myself: "Maybe this whole revamp of the Iraqi Army might just work.." I then looked over at my interpreter, Jay, who was born in Iraq but has lived in the USA for over ten years, and he was wiping away tears of joy from his eyes. As a young man, he had taken part in the Shia uprising in the south after Desert Storm. He fled to the US not long after, having a price on his head. He was touched to the core and deeply moved at seeing this small but profound step forward in his native land. He is a US Citizen now, and will return to his family in the US at the end of his year-long contract here. He came here to make a difference and serve both of his countries. Seeing this little Academy let him know that he is. I have posted a new photo-gallery with more pictures from the Iraqi Army Leadership Training course in the left margin. Thanks SFC R!