AN NAJAF, Iraq -- Before the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines relinquishes responsibility for the city of An Najaf to the Multinational Division, they are guaranteeing that their counterparts are prepared for every contingency.
To ensure good communication among the foreign forces, the battalion taught a series of classes to coalition forces from El Salvador and Honduras that will enable them to use several radios and other key pieces of communication equipment. The Marines recently donated the equipment to the two Latin elements. The classes were given by Spanish-speaking Marines to avoid any communication gaps,
Gunnery Sgt. Rohan Josephs, communications chief for the battalion, said the incoming Spanish Brigade, which includes one battalion each from El Salvador and Honduras, arrived about two weeks ago, but ahead of their radio equipment. The Marines outfitted them with radios for both their troops and vehicles so they could go to work as soon as possible.
"For the Hondurans and the El Salvadorians, their equipment hadn't arrived so we decided to give them equipment," said Josephs, a resident of San Bernadino, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Ballardo Alcaraz, one of the two Spanish-speaking instructors who participated in the classes, is a maintenance management specialist in the battalion's communications platoon. Alcaraz, a resident of Oxnard, Calif., said the classes were meant to familiarize the Latin soldiers with the radio gear, which is essential as they take over patrols and other missions from the Marines in An Najaf.
"The way they speak Spanish is a little bit different, but we understood each other fine," Alcaraz said. "They have radios in their countries, but ours are much more advanced. They are radio operators however, so they grasped it pretty quickly."
The day after the class, the Marine battalion conducted a communications exercise; to make sure that the equipment and operators were working as one. According to Sgt. Christopher Hickey, the Marine battalion's radio chief and a native of Eatonville, Wash., the Latin battalions sent patrols out into the city a distance of about seven miles.
Once at the desired distance, the soldiers transmitted radio messages back to their command posts. The radio transmissions were monitored by the Marines to make certain everything ran smoothly.
"The first step is ensure the plan is going to work," Hickey said. "The second step is to ensure the (Latin battalions) are operational."
Many of the Salvadorians and Hondurans agreed the radio equipment is a step up from what they normally use.
"It's good gear," said 1st Sgt. Mauricio Samayoa, a first sergeant with El Salvador's Battalion Cucastlan, through an interpreter. "It's the equipment we've been given, so it is the equipment we will use to do the mission."
The radios are "first generation" PRC 119 models no longer in the Marines' inventory, according to Josephs. The radios had been stored in a warehouse in Kuwait since the Gulf War in 1991.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Adams, a multi-channel operator from Cocoa Beach, Fla., said the radios had to be gathered from the site. They also had to find enough batteries and other components to make them operational.
"We had to scrounge parts to make them complete," Adams said. "The whole process took two days."
As the exercise went without a hitch, both sides are confident the Spanish Brigade can continue with the job the Marines began in An Najaf.
"It's the beginning process of starting our mission," Samayoa said.