Iraqis Adapt British Military Academy as Model

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq, May 26, 2006 They call it "Sandhurst in the Sand." The Iraqi military academy here is modeled after Britain's Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, in Camberley, Surrey, and it has begun turning out officers for the new Iraqi army.

"The key here are the cadets themselves and what they do," British Col. Maurice Sheen, the senior coalition adviser at the academy, told American Forces Press Service on May 23. "This is about them and the role they will play in Iraq's future."

The 12-month course graduated 73 new second lieutenants in January and 157 in April. The goal is for the academy to produce 600 new officers each year.

The motto of the academy is the same as its British counterpart -- "Serve to Lead."

Sheen said the Iraqi academy's leaders hope to make it "the finest military academy in the Arab world in order to produce the best junior officers for the Iraqi armed forces trained to fill their first appointment."

A big difference between the Iraqi academy and its British namesake is in what happens next, Sheen said. A British officer leaving Sandhurst goes to a conventional army unit staffed by professional officers and NCOs. The British officers have all the support that a mature army in a Western democracy can provide them.

Iraqi officers step into a vacuum. Their first appointment is as a platoon leader in an infantry platoon at war, Sheen said. They leave here and begin fighting a counterinsurgency war. NCOs are not part of a professional corps, and officers they work with are trying to gain control not only of operations, but administrative actions that Western armies take for granted.

Length of instruction was the deciding factor in choosing the Sandhurst model over the U.S. model of the U.S. Military Academy, at West Point, N.Y. "We could have gone with the West Point model," Sheen said. "The Iraqis had a three-year academic model before, but you wouldn't get officers for three years. Sandhurst has a one-year pure leadership course."

A major difference is that 90 percent of those going to Sandhurst already have a college degree. "Most of our guys are high school level," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Larry Curlis, the academy's chief of instruction. Applicants are 18 to 24 years old.

The British military helped found the original Iraqi academy in 1924. The United States funded renovation of the academy to the tune of $70 million. The academy also depends on the neighboring coalition combat force. "Without the United States Army, we would be extremely handicapped," Sheen said. "We depend on our brothers to the north for convoys, communications, quick reaction force, medical facilities and much else."

The Sandhurst model uses infantry skills and tactics as the base of all instruction. This entails skill at arms, physical training, field craft, signals, drill, and administration. Still, cadets study other subjects including international affairs, war studies, military history and communications studies. The department heads -- with the exception of drill -- are all British officers. They have Iraqi counterparts, and as those men come up to speed, the British officers will step aside and coach the Iraqis as they assume the responsibility.

All of this is under command of a Coalition Military Assistance Transition Team. NATO trainers, however, are scheduled to take over the academy in July.

The first six weeks of instruction are to change the civilians into soldiers. They learn individual skills and segue into squad-level tactics. The Iraqi soldiers pass the leadership positions around so all are tested.

The intermediate term strengthens the leadership and takes the experience up to platoon level. That term also goes more into academics and international studies, Sheen said.

The final term is field-exercise heavy with emphasis on leadership and "heavy, heavy emphasis on counterinsurgency warfare, because that is what they will be up to," Curlis said.

American and European NCOs advise Iraqi NCOs who handle much of the officer training. "We see with the youngsters here that the influence of the NCOs is enormous," Sheen said. "They influence their bearing, the way they behave. We reckon if we just show them an example of what professional armies are like, something will rub off."

While the United Kingdom leads the effort, Denmark, the United States and the Netherlands also have contingents at the academy. There are also troops from Slovenia, Lithuania and Hungary. "The folks from Central Europe bring something that the U.S., U.K. and the Danes don't have: experience in rebuilding an army," Sheen said.

Sheen said the effort is well started, but it must continue. "My greatest fear is that we don't give it the longevity it needs," he said. "We're building for longevity here; we're not looking for a quick fix. We're trying to provide quality people - people who can get out in the field, lead their soldiers and hopefully save their soldiers lives and do an effective military job. If they do that, then we will have succeeded."

"I would like to come back in 10 years to see the effect these young officers will have on their country when they become the captains and majors and lieutenant colonels," Curlis said. "I believe they will make a difference."