By Sgt. Justin Naylor
1st Cavalry Division public affairs
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - As U.S. Forces operate in an advise and assist capacity in support of Operation New Dawn, stability transition teams (STT) play an important role in building confidence and competence in civilian and military leaders.
One STT soldier, attached to the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment "Red Dragons," 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, operated in Samarra in Salah-ad-Din, Iraq, working daily with local leaders, offering advice and helping them prepare the city for the complete departure of U.S. Forces.
Lt. Col. Christopher Coglianese has worked with the Red Dragons in Samarra since May 2011. He said typically, STTs work a full year in one area to develop close relationships with local leaders, "but we had to work an abbreviated timeline in preparation for leaving the country by the Dec. 31 deadline... .You pretty much have to focus your effort that much more on the absolute key essential tasks that are necessary to perform a successful transition."
While previous Iraqi transition team efforts such as police transition teams and military transition teams focused primarily on developing security, Coglianese focused on a wider range of transition aspects.
"The STT was an evolution from the previous advisory efforts," said Coglianese.
In addition to enhancing security capabilities, he and the Red Dragons leadership also improved the local government by building on the skills of their political leaders.
"We worked closely with the mayor, helping him develop economic plans for the city and we helped him develop his political skills," said Coglianese. "As Iraq continues to evolve as a democracy, and as we transitioned out of the country, the evolving skills of their politicians were going to be critical."
"The relationship we had with the STT was very good," said Mahmood Khalaf Ahmed, the mayor of Samarra. "We consulted with them, we received advice from them and we worked with each other."
"We cooperated together all the time for the good of Samarra," said Mahmood.
While the STT gave advice and assistance, it was up to local leadership to use it.
"We didn't solve problems for the Iraqis," said Coglianese. "We helped the Iraqis solve their problems. We gave them advice, we provided assistance, and we guided them in ways and suggestions, but ultimately they had to be the ones to solve their own problems."
For Coglianese, the Red Dragon leadership and their Iraqi counterparts, working together was a growing experience.
"We learned a lot from them; they learned a lot from us," said Lt. Col. Ghayath Sami Shawaqi, the director of the Samarra Joint Coordination Center, which works closely with the STT and Red Dragons. "They advised on security, intelligence, operations and planning."
The center coordinates the efforts of the numerous Iraqi military groups that operate in and around the city, as well as with local political leaders.
Ghayath said the STT helped him develop solutions to problems in the city, such as how to manage the large amounts of religious pilgrims that visit the Golden Mosque, an important location to Shiite Muslims.
Although time for U.S. troops is dwindling down in Iraq, Coglianese said he is confident the Iraqi leadership will continue to better their city.