An American Soldier Inside the Iraqi Army

ByABC News
February 26, 2007, 11:13 AM

CAMP VICTORY, Iraq Feb. 26, 2007 — -- "I'd take a bullet for them and I know they'd take a bullet for me," says U.S. Army Maj. Alvaro Roa. He calls them "my guys" and takes pride that they are the best in the brigade. It's obvious there's a friendship -- the type forged in combat -- between Roa and his men, the soldiers of the Babylon battalion of the Iraqi 6th Army.

"I get about 50 man kisses a day," Roa says, referring to the traditional Iraqi greeting, "and it doesn't bother me at all." Roa is the chief of one of more than 400 transition teams -- American soldiers that live, work and fight with Iraqi security forces.

It's not uncommon to hear soldiers talk about their Iraqi colleagues with contempt, but the talk from those who know them best, the transition teams, is more often full of praise and admiration.

"I'm extremely impressed with the Iraqi soldier," shouts Sgt. Dusty Hunt, over the crackle of gunfire on an Iraqi firing range, "from working without equipment to the training they have … to keep going out on missions over and over, you can't say enough about them."

Hunt says that many of the officers and soldiers have been threatened. "The risk is not just to themselves but to their families and anyone they associate with -- just another factor that impresses us."

"A lot of them are very good soldiers, compared to our soldiers, same capabilities, same motivation but if you don't have the resources what can you do?" says Roa. Senior military officials we talked with say they give the Iraqis all the equipment they need, but the supplies are issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. By the time it gets to the Iraqi soldier, "we get about half of what we need," says Roa. "The issues don't come from the bottom up, they come from [the] top."

The major's "jundis" ("soldiers" in Arabic) -- which is what he calls them -- call him Abu Nicco, or father of Nicco, Roa's son. It's a sign he has been accepted. Roa has some advice for the thousands of other U.S. soldiers that will now have to work with Iraqis in order to build a road home. "These guys are smart … the first order of business is to gain their respect. You have to lead by example and care about them, their Army and their country".