Ukrainians replace Marines in Al Kut

26 Aug 2003 | Army Sgt. Christopher Carney

The Ukrainian Army officially took over for 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment as the military authority in Wasit province, Iraq on Aug. 26.

A brigade of Ukrainian soldiers joined coalition forces in the province of about 1 million people. The brigade, part of Multinational Division Center-South, which is led by Poland, will assume peacekeeping missions in the area as the Marine reserve unit from New Orleans, La. prepares to go home.

The Ukrainians were introduced to Al Kut through a series of classes designed to inform them of the Marines' accomplishments and the work yet to be done in a harsh, and sometimes dangerous, climate.

"Welcome to Al Kut, the Miami Beach of Iraq," said Maj. Dan Reber, battalion assistant operations officer, from North Little Rock, Ark., during a briefing on unexploded ordnance.

The UXO class was the first class for most of the Ukrainian soldiers and covered the potential dangers of the large supply of unexploded ordnance common in the area.

Since arriving in country, a handful of battalion members have suffered injuries because unexploded ordnance, Reber said.

"If you don't know what it is, don't pick it up," Reber told the men. "We're telling you so one of you does not suffer the same fate."

After the briefings, the Ukraine soldiers went on a joint patrol to observe the Marines and learn their techniques. In turn, the Louisiana reservists were able to observe how the Ukrainians are planning to take over responsibilities in Al Kut, including reconstruction efforts.

"We're not treating them any different than any other armed forces," said Maj. Todd Simmons, battalion operations officer. "When they feel confident they know their mission we'll do the change over."

All together the Ukrainians will field about 1600 men and a large number of vehicles.

"I think they are good soldiers and are well trained," Reber said.  "And the good news is locals in town say it will start to cool down."