At Fort Lee, Virginia, the new Ordnance captains
assignments officer stood in front of my classmates and me.
She was responsible for determining where each of us would
be assigned after finishing the Combined Logistics Captains
Career Course. Her news was not well received. After a week
of waiting for our assignments, many of us were not surprised
when we were told where we were needed: on transition teams
in Iraq. As part of the transition teams, we would be serving
as logistics advisors to the Iraqi Army. Many were angry about
a second or third deployment; some were unaffected. I had many
questions, as did my classmates, so I set out to learn more
about my new assignment as a logistics advisor to Iraqi soldiers.
The term “advisor” immediately conjured up the
image of retired general and former Secretary of State Colin
Powell standing in front of his hooch in Vietnam circa 1963.
Then Captain Powell, newly arrived in Vietnam, sat in a room
with other officers and listened to a major general say that
their assignment as advisors was essential to stopping the
spread of communism and helping the South Vietnamese save their
country. After this speech, Powell was fired up to get to the
field and train the South Vietnamese soldiers. He served his
tour of duty and returned disappointed. Powell left Vietnam
frustrated over the Army’s attitude of “if it ain’t
working, pretend it is, and maybe it will fix itself,” and
his own attitude that “the ends were justified, even
if the means were flawed.” Powell’s dissatisfaction
with his experience as an advisor was due in part to flawed
notions of what was expected and what could be accomplished
by training an indigenous force.
I asked myself: How could I avoid returning with the same frustrations?
How could I best prepare myself for an assignment that, although
done in the past across many countries, was not a specialty
or career path in the Army inventory? I had not been specifically
educated to train foreign soldiers. I knew I needed to prepare
myself before my 3-month advisor training at Fort Riley, Kansas.
My first task was to get my hands on as many sources of information
as I could. I obtained Combat Studies Institute Occasional
Papers 18 and 19, which contain numerous articles by authors
ranging from T.E. Lawrence (also known as Lawrence of Arabia)
to officers just returning from serving as advisors in Iraq
and Afghanistan. For me, the information merged into three
broad focus areas: societal awareness, including language,
history, customs, work ethic, and thought processes; basic
soldier skills, including weapons training, convoy procedures,
medical knowledge and skills, and doctrine; and psychological
awareness, including mental toughness, spiritual fitness, physical
fitness, and focus.
Societal awareness encompasses more than just knowing the language;
it is the ability to behave in any situation without being
offensive to those you are trying to train. Societal awareness
is also familiarity with a society’s nuances, which,
if I could imitate them, would allow me to gain the trust and
confidence of the individuals I would be training.
Language. A working knowledge of the local language is the
most important aspect of societal awareness. I took 3 years
of German in high school and lived in Germany for 3 years;
however, in college, I froze when the time came to take a German
oral exam. I was embarrassed because I knew that, to a native
speaker, I would sound like a 6-year-old. Speaking a foreign
language is a phobia that many people have and one that needs
to disappear. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Milburn
and Major Mark Lombard, who served as advisors to the Iraqi
Army, state that “the usefulness of language skills is
obvious. The intent should not be to bring the advisor up to
the standards of a foreign area advisor.” So why bother
learning the language at all? Learning the native language
elevates the advisor’s status and credibility. Although
I would learn some Arabic at Fort Riley, I could begin before
I left for the training. The Army has the Rosetta Stone foreign
language software available through Army Knowledge Online,
and the Georgetown University Press website also offers resources
to learn Arabic and even the Iraqi dialect.
History. Historical knowledge of my future counterparts’ culture
and nation could help me understand why they do the things
they do. Knowledge of a nation’s history provides an
understanding of customs, prejudices, and local work ethic.
understanding could help me deal with and motivate my counterparts.
Customs. Learning the customs of another country is often difficult
for Americans. The fact that Iraq has three different cultures—Shia
Muslim, Sunni Muslim, and Kurd—makes this task proportionately
difficult. Major Mike Sullivan, who, with his team, built and
trained the 6th Iraqi Infantry Battalion, brings this point
home by stating that the “Iraqi army is set up to mimic
the societal breakdown of ethnic backgrounds,” meaning
that the Iraqi Army contains the same ethnic groups, and the
cultures and biases that come with them, as the Iraqi society.
I needed to have knowledge of general Middle Eastern customs
and also the customs of the three cultures within the country.
Ignorance of this could destroy my working relationship with
my counterparts. By understanding the differences, I would
also understand why my counterparts feel one way or another
about their fellow countrymen.
Work ethic. The American approach to a problem is often head-on
and direct. When training a task, U.S. advisors have a tendency
to take over and do the task for a person who is having difficulty.
This is wrong. T.E. Lawrence said, “Better the Arabs
do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war,
and you are to help them, not to win it for them.” I
should not expect the same kind of results from the ranks of
the Iraqi Army that I expect from my Soldiers.
Thought processes. The thought processes I would encounter
while working with Iraqi soldiers would be different than anything
I encountered previously in my career. I had to understand
that Iraqis do not view timelines and tactical continuing actions
with the same degree of urgency that the U.S. Army does. T.E.
Lawrence observed that Arab “minds work just as ours
do, but on different premises. There is nothing unreasonable,
incomprehensible, or inscrutable in the Arab . . . Allusion
is more effective than logical expression: they dislike concise
T.E. Lawrence weaves the final unifying thread of how language,
customs, history, work ethic, and thought process come together
under the umbrella of societal awareness by saying, “Experience
of [Arabs] and knowledge of their prejudices will enable you
to foresee their attitude and possible course of action in
nearly every case.”
Basic Soldier Skills
To ensure that I would be able to train my counterparts, I
needed to focus on my basic soldier skills.
Weapons training. Weapons training is more than going to the
range with an assigned weapon, zeroing, qualifying, and cleaning
up when through. Lieutenant Colonel Milburn and Major Lombard
remind Army advisors that all advisors of a team will regularly
have to man a mounted crew-served weapon, so advisors should
receive refresher training on the M2 .50-caliber machinegun,
the M249G squad automatic weapon, and the MK19 40-millimeter
machinegun. Reading the field manuals (FMs) for these weapons
and becoming familiar with the systems before
leaving for Fort Riley would help me make the most of my training
and would better prepare me for the transition team.
Convoy procedures. Convoy training is not only doing convoy
live-fire exercises in Kansas, or in Kuwait, or both. It is
also about training for convoy operations from start to finish.
Convoy operations include the whole process, from the first
warning order that the convoy commander receives to the final
closeout when the mission is complete. So, I needed to be familiar
with the unit movement operations covered in FM 4–01.011,
Unit Movement Operations; troop leading procedures in FM 7–8,
Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad; and the military decisionmaking
process in FM 5–0, Army Planning and Orders Production.
Understanding that the convoy process is more than just driving
is key, but driving skills are also important. More often than
not, advisors in Iraq will find themselves maneuvering vehicles
at speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour in heavy traffic while
watching for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) left by the
Medical knowledge and skills. Lieutenant Colonel Milburn and
Major Lombard stated that the “absence of indigenous
medical personnel means that the advisor is almost invariably
the first responder in the event of casualties.” Advisors
should not wait until the first casualties arrive at triage
to remember the ABCs of first aid. Numerous websites, such
as www.WebMD.com, can provide the basics of emergency first
aid. In addition to the combat lifesaver training that I would
receive before deployment, I needed to review medical FMs like
FM 4–25.11, First Aid, or FM 8–10–9, Combat
Health Logistics in a Theater of Operations Tactics, Techniques,
Doctrine. Deviations from doctrine have been a common feature
of operations in Iraq since the start of the war. We Americans
have the ability to think outside of the box. However, one
must understand the doctrine that is inside the box before
jumping out of it. Dr. Peter Kindsvatter, the Ordnance Corps
Historian, interviewed three Ordnance captains who were assigned
to three different special police transition teams in Iraq.
Since they were the only Ordnance officers on their teams,
the captains handled many ammunition and maintenance issues
for their teams and their Iraqi counterparts. However, a majority
of their time was spent performing duties not normally associated
with Ordnance or even logistics in general. These other duties
involved infantry tasks and training the Iraqis in the infantry
skill set. To prepare for training and employing infantry tasks,
I needed to review FM 7–8. Previous advisors assigned
to transition teams found it important for advisors to review
military operations in an urban environment, cordon and search
operations, patrolling, raids, detainee techniques, and checkpoint
To avoid misunderstanding, I am not saying that an advisor
will or should always perform these operations personally—the
Iraqis should fight their own battles. However, I needed to
be able to teach these tasks. Book knowledge, when combined
with the training and experience garnered at Fort Riley, would
Psychological awareness is the ability to sustain oneself in
the contemporary operating environment by maturing one’s
spiritual, physical, and mental fitness. Societal awareness
would help me behave appropriately in Iraqi culture. Basic
soldier skills would help me train my Iraqi counterparts. Psychological
awareness would be required for both.
Mental toughness. Picture yourself on an advisory team. You
are training your Iraqi company on maintenance procedures.
The company is 40 percent Shiite, 40 percent Sunni, and 20
percent Kurdish. The Kurdish soldiers do not read, write, or
speak Arabic, so how do you teach them maintenance? Enter mental
toughness. As Lawrence said, the advisor cannot do everything
for the counterpart; your patience will be taxed to no limit.
One way to train for mental toughness is to study the lessons
learned by other advisors. Examining how others have dealt
with issues helps build “muscle memory” in the
brain. For example, the 1st Marine Division trained Iraqis
in a special commando school, and those few trainees later
formed the cadre of a commando school that trained other Iraqis.
The Iraqis being trained by the first group of commando school
graduates were angry and jealous toward their trainers, who
wore berets and carried 9-millimeter pistols. “Precedence
is a serious matter among the Arabs,” T.E. Lawrence said.
The pistols and berets were status symbols, and status is paramount
in Middle Eastern culture. Learning from experiences like the
1st Marine Division’s and being prepared for similar
cultural issues would help me build mental toughness.
Spiritual fitness. On the television show “M*A*S*H,” the
general yelled to Father Mulcahy, “There are no atheists
in foxholes!” With the possibility of an IED harming
or killing Soldiers everyday, I would have to prepare spiritually
before leaving for my mission. Not everyone in the Army has
the same religious beliefs, and the same is true of our Iraqi
counterparts, but the Army’s Chaplain Corps is a great
asset. Those unarmed professionals’ sole mission is taking
care of Soldiers’ spiritual fitness.
Physical fitness. Getting up for a run at 0600 is hard enough
for some. Going for a run at 0600 when the temperature is over
100 degrees Fahrenheit is even more challenging, so I would
have to prepare physically before arriving in country. The
Iraqis would follow my lead if they saw me running, eating
healthfully, and taking care of myself. The Marine advisors
offer a quick leadership lesson: “An effective advisor
is not . . . merely a giver of advice; he is a leader.” Just
as leaders in the U.S. Army set standards by their own behavior,
I would be an example for my Iraqi counterparts. Staying physically
fit also contributes to mental fitness. As the old adage says, “If
you look good, you feel good!”
Focus. Focus comes from mental toughness and spiritual fitness
and is aided by physical fitness. Keeping focused at all times
is difficult during a normal duty day in the United States,
and it is even harder when dealing with a culture that does
not share the Western social norm of getting down to business
right away. Regular azimuth checks are necessary to maintain
focus. You cannot stay focused if you are not being objective
or if you are taking yourself too seriously. Lawrence said
to “cling tight to your sense of humor. You will need
it every day.” As my battalion commander daily reminded
my fellow commanders and me in Iraq during Operation Iraqi
Freedom, “This is a marathon, not a sprint!”
Information on advising indigenous forces is abundantly available
online. Although I researched and prepared myself for the Middle
Eastern culture, plenty of lessons can be learned from advisory
tours in Korea, Vietnam, and El Salvador. The better prepared
an advisor is before his 3 months at Fort Riley, the more he
will absorb during training, and the better he will perform
as an advisor.
Captain Joshua B. Jordan is currently serving
as a military transition team advisor in Iraq. He enlisted
in the Army
in 1993 as a combat support specialist and was reclassified
as an automated logistics specialist. Captain Jordan was
commissioned as an Ordnance officer in 2002. He has a bachelor’s
degree in political science from Purdue University and is
a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined
Logistics Captains Career Course.