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Friday, May 18, 2007

Iraq Assistance Group Supports the Feature Performance

17 May 2007
By Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Schwind
U.S. Central Command Public Affairs

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq – When watching movie credits, the starring roles always get plenty of attention, but by the time the credits roll to the names of the production crew the theater is often empty. The support staff doesn’t get much attention, but if they weren’t doing their behind-the-scenes jobs the stars wouldn’t even make it to the show. [Amen!]

In this theater, first billing goes to the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) as they take the lead for security of their country. Filling the crucial supporting role is more than 200 embedded transition teams, living and working side-by-side with the Iraqi forces to mentor, advise, train and coach the ISF.

Setting these headliners up for success is a production crew of about 100 professional Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines of the Iraq Assistance Group (IAG), a subordinate command of Multi-National Corps – Iraq.

Since their official formation in 2005, the IAG’s role has evolved with the needs of the changing battlefield. This spring the Multi-National Corps - Iraq commanding general, Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, determined the time was right to hand over transition team administrative duties from the IAG to the units they are attached to.

“I think that’s a good thing. It gives unity of effort and unity of command in a brigade combat team’s area of operations,” said Army Brig. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, commanding general of the IAG. “So the brigade combat team commander will own the transition teams in his area of operations.”

“The IAG still remains the executive agent of transition teams. Transition teams are still assigned to the IAG but then attached to units,” said Pittard. As the executive agent, he said, the IAG is the MNC-I commander’s eyes and ears as far as transition teams.

To see the status and hear the issues of the teams, there is constant communication between the teams and the IAG. Even though the IAG gets weekly situation reports from the teams, the commanding general and command sergeant major make far more than cameo appearances on the battlefield. They travel throughout the country seeing every division transition team monthly, brigade teams bimonthly, and reach the “out of the way” places monthly, too.

“IAG has a unique view of what’s going on with our transition teams in Iraq, and the Iraqi Security Forces at the division, brigade and battalion levels,” said Pittard. “Very few folks in this country know by name the Iraqi Army division commanders and what’s going on with their units. We provide that unique talent or service.”

In addition to being the executive agent for the teams, the IAG also ensures the transition teams have all the required training and support they need while in theater.

“We are still responsible for the training of the teams,” said Army Command Sgt. Major Robert Moore, command sergeant major of the IAG. “We make sure that the theater-wide replacement system is happening, to make sure they’re getting the necessary things they need on the battlefield, and getting information back from them to make sure their follow-on teams are as trained as they can possibly be.”

Directing the training for the transition teams, the IAG ensures the teams receive the information they will need through synchronized training at Fort Riley, Kan., Camp Buehring, Kuwait, and the Phoenix Academy, known as the “Finishing School”, at Camp Taji, Iraq.

The IAG establishes the curriculum that includes Arabic language skills, communication equipment training, ethics and more. All phases of the training constantly adapt and improve, due to the feedback from the teams as they finish each phase and after they’re out performing their mission.

“We ask them to give us a critique, not just on the instructor, but on the material that was in each class that they received,” said 1st Sgt. Randi Hamden, first sergeant of the Phoenix Academy. “The more ideas they come up with the bigger and better this place (Phoenix Academy) gets. It’s the transition teams, and us listening to them, which makes that happen.”

The IAG not only provides training at the Phoenix Academy, but they also ensure the teams are properly equipped for their up-coming mission. Like stage hands moving and preparing equipment behind-the-scenes, this support doesn’t get mentioned until farther down the credits, but it is important. Teams walk in with empty pockets, and drive out in fully-loaded humvees.

“We give the teams all the high-end equipment they need to do their jobs,” said Sgt. 1sg Class Phillip Hollifield, non-commissioned office in charge of logistics and arms at the Phoenix Academy. “Without us they wouldn’t have a truck to roll with or the equipment they need to conduct the mission.”

According to Hollifield, he receives basic model HMMWV’s without the necessary uparmor or communication systems, and ensures the proper modifications are made for the teams. It takes three different maintenance shops to get all the improvements and equipment installed, to include frag-5 armor and objective doors, Harris 152 radios, and warlock/duke systems.

“That is the sole purpose of our existence,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Patrick Kirchner, Operations Officer at the Phoenix Academy. “We want to make sure the teams have everything they need in terms of training and equipment before they go out with their Iraqi counterparts.”

Once training is complete and the teams begin their mission, they are not physically assigned to the IAG anymore. But, according to Hamden, the IAG is always there for the teams as a parent unit, to be a source of information or supplies and also to get the teams home after their mission is completed.

“We’re always that constant -- we’re either bringing them in or taking them out of the fight,” said Hamden. “It’s very important that … they’re set up for success.”

As directors, agents, trainers and grips, the IAG will never hold the glamorous roles and receive top billing in this theater. Those involved, however, know the importance of their contributions to the transition teams, and therefore to the ISF’s ability to build capacity and secure Iraq.

Neither the IAG nor even the stars in this theater will win an Oscar award for their efforts, but they will win something far more important. This support crew will help the ISF win security and peace for the Iraqi people.

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