Volunteers Flood Iraqi Recruiting Stations


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Volunteers Flood Iraqi Recruiting Stations
By U.S. Army Sgt. Jared Zabaldo / Office of Security Transition
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 1, 2004 — Iraqi Armed Forces recruiting centers continue to be flooded with thousands of eager Iraqi volunteers as the Office of Security Transition prepares to transfer control of the stations to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense on June 25, 2004 - five days prior to Iraqi sovereignty.

Since standing up the first recruiting center in Baghdad, July 2003, the Iraqi Armed Forces has enjoyed a fairly consistent stream of recruits at the country’s soon-to-be six recruiting centers, and the numbers continue to rise as does the presence of Iraqi personnel assigned to the locations-an early sign of the transition of authority.

The Office of Security Transition, the organization specifically tasked with training and equipping the Iraqi Armed Forces and Iraqi police forces, has established three active, fully staffed and equipped recruiting stations throughout the country in Baghdad, Basrah and Mosul. Two more are under construction - operating on a limited basis - in Sulaimaniya and Erbil in Northern Iraq with a final station on the way in Ramadi.

“I believe the increased interest is due in large part to this streamlined process,” said Baghdad Recruiting Center Chief, Bill Best, an American civilian contractor and former Marine Corps colonel working for the Office of Security Transition.

“At one time, we had to have applicants wait for long periods of time between completing processing and shipment to training,” Best said. “Now they have a guaranteed job right away.

Volunteers go through an initial vetting process screening applicants for medical and background reasons before approval. In some cases candidates can ship out that same day to one of the Iraqi army basic training sites in the country.

“ … The army can only benefit from more centers and more locations,” said an Iraqi officer working in the recruitment program. Similar to the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, when some U.S. military personnel did not use their full names and did not allow themselves to be photographed by the press, terrorism in Iraq also prevents Iraqi military personnel from using their full names and showing their faces.

After a slow February recruiting month where less than 500 soldiers volunteered for duty, the months of March, April and May have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers turning out for service. April alone produced more than 2,000 applicants and since the first call almost a year ago, more than 25,000 Iraqis have been processed through the stations.

“… Now the first individuals they encounter are squared away Iraqi army personnel,” Best said, “And they can see and actually talk with the soldiers who have completed training.”

The two-hour in-processing - compared with a U.S. stateside Military Entry Processing Station vetting process typically lasting an entire day - is the result of hard work to get the facilities and procedures ready for the transition. In addition, the recruiting centers have been fully staffed with members of the Iraqi Armed Forces in preparation for the handover. To that end, the Office of Security Transition has worked hard to specifically train all of the recruiting station chiefs and deputies at the Baghdad Recruiting Station.

Training addressed organization, principal duty and responsibility assignments, daily processing routines, administration policies and procedures and reports, security,

logistics, personnel management, asset and resource management, vetting procedures, documents and forms, day to day topical functioning and basic recruiting ethics.

Iraqis at the center have additionally been “shadowing” the contractors as the Office of Security Transition begins to pull out of the operation.

“We had the civilian contracting recruiters and the Iraqi staff working side by side for over a month,” said Office of Security Transition Recruiting Office, Head of Recruiting Marine Corps Maj. Timothy Fitzpatrick.

“And then over the last two weeks the contractors have stepped back and given more and more control and decision making over to the Iraqi staff,” he added.

The recent increase in Iraqi Armed Forces salaries, is comparably good, in fact, said Best, when compared to available civilian occupations. Many people are finding military service is a viable option to provide for their families.

“The opportunity is very, very good and people know that they have a good chance for a future by joining the army. Not only for their country, but for their families too,” another Iraqi army officer said.

“The recruits in Baghdad, for example,” he added, “Are not just from Baghdad. They are from everywhere. Tikrit. Naja. Kirkuk.”

Ultimately when the Iraqis get more locations and more personnel in those locations, the numbers will be big, he said.

That, notwithstanding, however, Fitzpatrick believes there are other motivations for the interest being shown from the Iraqis in their new army.

“I think a lot of people are looking at the opportunity to serve their country and ensure its freedom,” Fitzpatrick said. “And as July 1 continues to get closer, I think the people of Iraq are looking to the future and want to see this country become great and ensure it is safe for their families.”

Indeed the reasons are important as the Coalition enters the final push to the army’s initial goal to stand-up 27 fully trained regular Iraqi army battalions. Currently four battalions have completed training and will come on line as the basic foundation for the army’s push for a full force. The other 23 battalions enter service in the coming weeks and months as “battalions-in-training” with the final pieces coming together at the end of the year.

“The Iraqi people - most of them like the army,” commented another Iraqi army recruiting officer working with the Office of Security Transition in standing up and staffing the Iraqi Armed Forces recruiting centers since his induction into the new army in February. “They want to enjoy the army,” he said.

“Many people say it will be good and some say it will be worse,” he added.

“But that is only short term,” he said. “For the long term, all of us are sure that it will be a very great Iraq. Not ‘great,’ but very great.”
That's good news, Top. Hopefully this will help build a greater confidence among the Iraqis in their government, as well as providing more jobs and security.