RAMADI, Iraq -- The Iraqi Army's 7th Infantry Division officially opened it doors with a ribbon cutting ceremony at Camp Blue Diamond May 9.
Once used by U.S. Army and Marine Corps units as a forward operating base, the camp will be home to 1,500 Iraqi troops within the next 12 months.
The division-level Military Transition Team 3 and staff from the Iraqi Army's 7th Infantry Division moved from Camp Fallujah to Blue Diamond in March and cleaned, repaired and retrofitted a palace once used by Sadaam Hussein and his extended family.
British Maj. Gen. Peter Everson, deputy commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Richard M. Zilmer, commanding general of Multi-National Forces-West both offered short comments during the ceremony touting the tireless work towards this milestone by Iraqi soldiers and U.S. service members. The 7th Infantry Division’s commanding general, Maj. Gen. Murthi Mishin Rafa Faraha, also expressed appreciation and pride for his soldiers.
The Division was formed in 2005 and is now being tasked with securing the area in the northwestern part of Al Anbar Province. Battalions and brigades are to train in urban combat, cordon and search missions, and check points in order to better protect the infrastructure of the cities in its battle space.
The Marines of MiTT 3 are responsible for working along side the staff to ensure every area of staff-development is covered to support the three brigades that fall under it. They also assisted the division staff with organizing workspaces inside the Rotunda Building, a palace that sits on the banks of the Euphrates River northeast of the city of Ramadi.
The 15-man team with expertise in operations, intelligence, logistics and communications has been working with their Iraqi counterparts since February. Although the progress was slow at first, things are starting to come together now that they have a place to call home, said Col. Steven M. Zotti, commanding officer of MiTT 3.
"Now that we are beginning to grow as a staff, we can start functioning as a staff," said Zotti, adding that it has been a steep learning curve for the soldiers, who are now briefing generals on the development of the division and its troops. “They know we refuse to let them fail," he said.
"We are trying to build a security force the people can rely on," said Zotti. “Our goal is to have them be able to control and support two of their brigades within the next year, with less support from the U.S. soldiers and Marines.
"Most of the seeds we are planting today we will see in the next generation," said Zotti." In the next five or 10 years we will see the fruit of our efforts."
In the mean time, the Iraqi soldiers gain more responsibility as Marines and soldiers lessen their footprint on Blue Diamond, which will eventually become an exclusively an Iraqi Army camp.