MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- -- Col. Raymond E. Coia, director for Iraqi Security Forces for II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), from Belmont, Mass., was awarded the Legion of Merit during a ceremony July 26 for his role in supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Lt. Gen. James F. Amos, commanding general, II MEF, awarded the medal in recognition of Coia’s training, equipping and sustainment of the Iraqi army and police. Coia deployed 21,000 forces in the Al Anbar province, Iraq’s most unstable region.
The first three months were spent getting forces and figuring how things were going to be set logistically, said Coia. Marines ranking from lance corporal to sergeant, lieutenant to colonel, spent 18 hours a day working hard to train Iraqi Security Forces, he said.
The first Iraqis showed up in Ramadi to train around April or May of 2005, said Coia. It was almost a disaster at first, he said. Many of the men were farmers before training for ISF, he said.
“Nothing in Iraq is easy,” said Amos. “From hauling gravel in trucks for the sandstorms to this type of training, every task is a challenge.”
Between 400 to 2500 men at a time trained to become ISF, said Coia, noting cultural sensitivities, such as language barriers, added to the difficulty of his assignment.
Even with substantial development of Iraq’s combat operations, Coia believes training will be easier when a stronger chain of command can be established within the ranks of the ISF.
“What was unique about ISF is there was no infrastructure. One still doesn’t exist sufficiently today. In the bigger scheme of things, that was placing the cart before the horse,” he said. “That has to be made in order for ISF to be successful.”
Coia succeeded in helping senior Iraqi officials and personnel to strengthen the country’s governance and security.
The Legion of Merit is not earned for duties normal to ranks or assignments, but for exceptionally meritorious conduct in performing outstanding service. Coia’s contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom increased the number of ISF from 3,000 to 21,000 from October 2004 through February 2006.