AN NAJAF, Iraq -- Troops from the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based in 29 Palms, Calif. has set up its own security guard academy to train local residents into professional security officers.
Once these security officers to are assigned to their posts, the citizens of An Najaf, Iraq will have more of their own people on the street so they do not have to rely on Marines as protectors.
"There is definitely a need for more security guards," said Army Staff Sgt. Martin J. Antone, a public safety coordinator with the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion, a reserve unit based in Green Bay, Wis. "This frees up the police from guarding static positions."
The job of training security guards will be a long-term project, according to Antone.
"When everything is in place, (we) will have trained a little more than 4,000 police and security officers in the Najaf governate," said Antone, who is a detective sergeant for the Green Bay Wis., police department.
Typical classes are very full.
"We have 253 students here today," said Lt. Paul J. Kasich, the commander of 2nd Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, which is currently running the academy this week "We had to turn 97 away."
The security guards the Marines are training will take up posts at the schools, hospitals, gas stations and even patrol the fuel pipe lines that black marketers have been illegally tapping.
The three-day academy teaches security guard candidates basic skills such as first aid, how to properly detain a suspect, vehicle searches, and weapon retention skills, according to Antone.
One of the things that make the classes successful is that most of the security guard candidates are former soldiers from the Iraqi army, Antone said. Because of that, most of the subjects covered in the academy are not new to them.
The program seems to be a success. As word gets out about the training, more people sign-up for each new academy.
The job is rewarding, Marines say, and it gives lower ranking Devil Dogs a chance to develop their training and leadership skills, said Kasich, who is from Monroe, Conn. Because the young Marines know what it is like to sit through dry classes, they try to keep it interesting for the students.
"My junior Marines can be very creative with their classes," said Kasich. "They are always coming up with ways to keep the classes interesting for the guys."
The academy gives the junior enlisted service members a chance to speak in front of large groups of men and they are getting hands-on experience training others, Kasich said. These are leadership skills that they will use later as they earn promotions.
"It makes you comfortable with large groups," said Pfc. Joe Gutierrez, who was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines right out of infantry school just a few weeks before they shipped out to Iraq.
For the Marines who spent the spent an intense month fighting Saddam Hussein's Army, the academy also gives them an opportunity to meet Iraqis and see them as real people.
"These are good people," said Gutierrez, from Burnet, Texas. "I like the culture and the city of Najaf."
Because of the language barrier, each class has several interpreters to help the instructors teach the classes. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class, Benjamin A. Wilson, 2nd Platoon medical corpsman, from Orange County, Calif., found out that his interpreter's medical background in public health was a real asset to his first aid class.
"My interpreter is great," Wilson said. "The second time we gave this class together after I just said one word he went on for about five minutes."
The academy will also lead to jobs, according to Antone, who is from Green Bay, Wis. Graduates will be assigned a post, and depending on which government agency hires them, they may start work the very next day.
At graduation, they are issued a weapons card that allows them to carry either a pistol or a rifle, depending on what type of job they are assigned to, and $20 to buy a uniform and some of the equipment they will need.
One lure is the opportunity to earn a dependable salary of roughly $60 a month. The classes are drawing some highly qualified candidates, allowing the Marines to be selective about which people are taken into the academy.
"We screen every applicant," said Antone. "If they do not look like they are going to be able to do the job, they won't get in."