AL WALEED, Iraq --
Border enforcement, the foundation in building the nation’s security, is the first line of defense against threats entering Iraq to destabilize efforts to form a unified democratic government.
The Marines of the Border Transition Team for the Iraqi 5th Brigade, 2nd Region train, mentor and advise Iraq’s Department of Border Enforcement on a daily basis ensure security of the region.
The BTT members, all augments of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), works most frequently with the Desert Wolves, the headquarters of the 5th Brigade which heads three battalions responsible for deterring all illegal cross-border activity in their area of operations.
The mission of the Desert Wolves includes securing the Iraqi-Jordanian and Syrian borders, preventing terrorists and smugglers from entering the country. They work out of border forts— small cement structures located just inland of the border, to prevent any illegal entries.
“By degrading the enemy’s access to weapons and reinforcements into the country, the Desert Wolves are establishing a safer place for the free-Iraqi people and the coalition forces here to support them,” said Capt. Wade Fairbanks, the operations officer for the BTT.
“We are trying to train the Desert Wolves to function effectively as a unit and support their subordinate units,” continued Fairbanks. “Instead of providing solutions for our counterparts, our focus is helping them develop their own solutions.”
When working with the Desert Wolves, the BTT conforms to the Iraqi custom of becoming friends with the unit’s personnel before conducting business. Friendships and familiar faces create trust, and teaching begins once that trust is established.
Since the Department of Border Enforcement rotates shifts regularly and the Marines face challenges in making progress with the new staff.
To combat the complexities of the continuously fluid environment, the Marines use ingenuity and wit to accomplish their mission. They train the Desert Wolves in every aspect, from logistics and communication to the fundamentals of leadership.
“Our daily presence is what is making a difference,” explained WO1 Oscar Gonzalez, the logistics officer for the BTT.
As the Iraqi’s begin adapting the procedures taught by the Marines, the BTT can assume the role of a supervisor. One example of success for the Desert Wolves is their first Iraq-planned and executed convoy from Al-Waleed to Baghdad, some 550 kilometers away.
“The Marines have made most of the soldiers here become ‘real soldiers’ by pushing them into a military way of life,” said Iraqi Staff Col. Attia Al-Ali, the superior officer for the Desert Wolves. “The Marines provide my guys with constant training in communications, logistics, medical training, inspections and even ethics.”
We now have a unit that can secure and control the borders of Iraq, explained Al-Ali. The existence of the Marines solves the problems as well as establishes a stronger force.
“We could not do our job without the help of the Marines and the coalition forces,” he concluded.