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Monday, April 16, 2007

Iraqi Police eager to learn****

Sunday, 15 April 2007
By Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood
1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division


ANAH — Back home in Brainerd, Minn., this Minnesota Army National Guardsman Pfc. Adam Starry tends to lawns as a landscaper. Here in this 5,000-year-old city of about 20,000 people, Starry is helping to train several Iraqi police officers.

Starry, of Company B, 194th Combined Arms Battalion, and 15 of his fellow soldiers are experiencing what it is like being an Iraqi police officer in a city that is still a hotbed of insurgent activity. They form a police transition team whose task is to train the Iraqi police on how to take control of their own communities and maintain order. Training includes learning basic organizational skills, leadership mentoring and patrolling techniques.

Starry, who said he gets an adrenaline rush every time he goes on a patrol, admitted that working with the Iraqi police can be frustrating at times because of the language barrier. However, the young law-enforcement officers seem eager to learn.

"It is definitely inspiring and exciting," he said. "They amaze me more and more each day."

The transition team is able to watch this transformation close-up, because it shares floor space in a city building with the Iraqi police. There is also a U.S. Marine Corps headquarters space in this former sports complex.

One newly promoted Iraqi police lieutenant said he loves being a policeman and he loves peace.

"We're here to help you guys," he said. At a gas station, he arrested a resident who attempted to bribe him. He told the man, "No bribes accepted here" and tore the money up.

The police lieutenant said he joined the force for several reasons, including his belief in his country, personal honor, and wanting to protect his family and the Iraqi people.

Spc. Brent Haataja, a carpenter from Menahga, Minn., said he also noticed that the Iraqi police "work pretty hard to try and do good."

The team's officer in charge is 2nd Lt. Vitaly Sherbina. He is also a Fargo, N.D., police officer. Sherbina said he has met Iraqi police from Rawah and Baghdad, but they weren't as motivated as the Anah force.

"These guys motivate us and tell us this mission is possible," said Sherbina, who came to the United States in 1999 from Russia and became an American citizen after Sept, 11, 2001. "These guys are doing everything to take control of the situation."

The team's noncommissioned officer in charge, Sgt. Jon Morris of Salisbury, N.C., expanded on this statement. He said the Iraqi police leaders tell his team where they want to go on patrols. Morris said the Iraqi police haven't led any of these patrols or raids.

"They want their town cleaned up of the insurgency," he said. It is also apparent that trust between the transition team and the Iraqi police has grown.

"There is not a guy in the room right now that I wouldn't stand in front of or let stand behind me," Morris said.

Sherbina agreed: "I can risk my life for any of these guys."

The Iraqi police are very friendly toward their U.S. trainers, said Cpl. William Parker of Redwood Falls, Minn.

"They always want us to come over and hang out with them," he said.

Spc. Mark Belcourt of Hastings, Minn., said he “hangs out" with the Iraqi police frequently. The night after the patrol, he conversed with about 10 Iraqi police officers, talking about what any young soldier might discuss. At 19, he also is the youngest soldier in the company.

"I want to try and learn Arabic as much as possible," Belcourt said. His mother is a sergeant in the Minnesota Army National Guard's 34th Infantry Division. "The Iraqi police treat you with such respect."

Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Mark Belcourt of Hastings, Minn., Company B, 194th Combined Arms Battalion, talks with Iraqi police officers at their headquarters in Anah, Iraq. Belcourt is a member of a police transition team training the police. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Clinton Wood.

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