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Every soldier must be competent with his rifle, and Iraqi noncommissioned officers must be able to instill this competency in their soldiers.


Since the new Iraqi Army was formed in 2003, most basic rifle instruction has been provided by Coalition forces. As the Iraqi Army has begun transitioning from the AK-47 rifle to the M-16 and M-4, these instructors’ collective experience has helped bring the Iraqis up to speed with their new weapons.


U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Mike Daly, a basic combat training advisor at the Hammam al Alil Division Training Center (DTC) from March to June 2008, said, “I was there as an advisor. But I would end up doing hands-on training because there were 100 soldiers on the firing line at once.” Soldiers were issued weapons and

would zero at 25 meters and then shoot for qualification at 100 meters, explained Daly.



“Zeroing was more like familiarization fire, as no sight adjustments were made. The Iraqis didn’t even have sight tools for the AK-47s when I got to Hamman al Alil. The coaches just tried to get the soldiers shooting in the right direction. They fired 30 rounds at a blank piece of letter-size paper taped to a silhouette target, then walked down range to count bullet holes.”


The Iraqi soldiers would spend three days qualifying on the 100-meter range and retrying for those who didn’t qualify. The standard, Daly said, was something like 15 of 30 rounds on the piece of paper.


“One of the first problems we ran into,” Daly continued, “was the Iraqi officers doing too much. They were getting in the foxholes with the soldiers and grabbing them by the shoulders to try to point them at the target while they were shooting. The officers would even go down range and count the hits. I guess they didn’t think their NCOs could do that. Finally, the Americans who were running the range talked them out of that and into remaining in their supervisory role. That meant we had to make sure the NCOs were teaching correctly.”



After a few cycles, Daly and his team began work on a new training aid. The DTC’s Sgt. Maj. Ibrahim asked for a training video. Since there wasn’t sufficient bandwidth at their remote location to download one from the Internet, they decided to make one of their own.


“We didn’t want super-detailed,” said Daly. “We went step-by-step through the four fundamentals: body position, trigger squeeze, sight picture and breathing. We had a U.S. soldier do the shooting and one of our translators did the voice-over in Arabic.


“We used an AK-47 for the video. The Iraqis wanted M-16s, but we needed to show them that it’s not the rifle, it’s the fundamentals of shooting that are important.”



As the Iraqi Army passes 200,000 soldiers and moves from the AK-47 to the M-16 as the standard issue rifle, Iraqi NCOs are taking over the role of marksmanship instructor. They are on the firing line coaching soldiers and Coalition forces are taking more of an advisory role in the training.


“We need to get out of the M-16 training business,” said U.S.Army Brig. Gen. Steven Salazar, Coalition

Army Advisory Training Team commander.


“Every American NCO can teach a soldier to shoot an M-16, and every Iraqi NCO should be able to as well.”


“Our trainers are now doing that. They train Iraqi Army NCOs to train their own soldiers,” Salazar continued.


“Now we overwatch the training as they conduct it. We’re training trainers, and they are producing expert riflemen.”


McCarthy Barnes is one of the American coaches at DTCAl-Kasik. During a recent session on the 25-meter zeroing range, he pointed out the absence of Americans involved in the training.



“That’s the NCOs running the line,” said Barnes. “They get the soldiers in the right position and run everything. Most of those NCOs have only been in the Army a little more than a year. They are executing the four fundamentals: steady position, sight picture, breathing and trigger squeeze.”


The instructors are using American-style zeroing targets and the shooters fire three rounds, instead of 30, before they mark the targets and make necessary sight adjustments.


“We send Iraqi NCOs to the Small Arms Expert Course so they can go back to their units and train other trainers,” said Command Sgt.Maj. William High, Salazar’s senior enlisted advisor. “It’s really amazing how quickly they learn rifle marksmanship. With the proper training that they are now receiving, Iraqi soldiers are learning to shoot just as well as American soldiers or any others.”


One of the soldiers learning to shoot his M-16 for the first time was Iraqi Army Pvt. Saleem, a former taxi driver. Saleem joined the army when he could no longer drive to Mosul for fear of being killed by terrorists working there.



“The training is very good,” said Saleem. “We are happy to have this weapon. It is better than the AK-47. The AKs were very old.”


The instructors prefer the M-16 as well. “You can get on the target easily,” said Iraqi Army Sgt. Akram.

“The instruction we give them is to use the minimum number of rounds to get on the target. I think all shooters like M-16s,” Akram continued, “because first you can hit the target, second they are light and third they are one of the good weapons–very modern.”



The situation at Regional Training Center Taji is much the same—Iraqis teaching Iraqis to shoot. Iraqi NCOs do the firing line coaching and instructing in the NCO courses and the basic combat training course. Although they still teach AK-47 marksmanship, “The Iraqi Army NCOs have been teaching basic rifle marksmanship for quite some time,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. William Sims, senior Coalition advisor to the RTC, “and they continue to improve on their quality of instruction.”