Friday, June 29, 2007
2D Battalion 5th Marines... Al Fallujah
The motions come to me now without much thought: flack jacket buttoned up, helmet and goggles strapped and on, gloves on, magazine in, pistol locked and loaded. I climb into the HUMMER knowing what I have to do to be safe and leave the firm base. Today I am riding outside the wire into the city of Fallujah with the Marines of 2nd Battalion 5th Marines. This mission is a little different as I have my Commanding Officer (CO) with me, from Quantico, he is also in country serving in the Joint History office in Baghdad. He has come out west to see me and spend some time with the Marines in the field. Something deep inside of all Marines will have them march towards the sound of the guns and battle, I cannot explain it, but I sense that is what has brought the Colonel out West and his visit to me. It is good to see him and brings back a face I know from Quantico, as so far I have been by myself in Iraq making friends as I go. I did not come out here with a unit or people I trained with, I came alone, and I welcome a familiar face.
When I mentioned to people before I left the States that I would be based in Camp Fallujah their eyes grew wide and they looked at me as if I were a man headed to a death sentence, or that perhaps I had completely lost my mind as I volunteered to go. No doubt this city has a reputation as a killing ground and has seen its share of bloodshed, men going above and beyond and often giving the final full measure with their lives. Their blood and souls are a part of this city; Fallujah will long be remembered in Marine Corps history, for the valor of men who found something deep inside of them here and for those who did not go home.
We ride out in a six vehicle convoy along with the Commanding Officer of 2/6, a tall man of quiet professionalism, dedicated to his craft and his Marines. Today's journey we will visit various out posts within the city and stop at two Iraqi police stations. I watch as the CO meets with his Marines at the various stops and quietly talks with them, a shepherd of sorts tending to his flock, keeping their spirits up and letting them know what a great job they are doing. At one stop I watch a squad of Marines coming in off a patrol in the city, drenched in sweat, tired and hungry, the CO asks how they are doing and they respond with "Great sir". Some of these young men are not even 20 yet. Looking for America's best?...follow me and I will show them to you.
Riding from post to post I cannot help but notice the children who come out and watch as we drive by. They wave and smile, their parents look on quietly with little emotion in their face. I cannot help but think they have seen too much in such a short time. I think of my own daughter and how lucky we are in the United States as I force a smile and wave to the to the children of this war torn city.
Changes are taking place here similar to those I reported in Ramadi, in fact the Battalion is operating in the same way with Marines out in the city with some changes to adapt to the Fallujah specific issues. But this is not the same city my friend and fellow Field Historian Maj Joe Winslow covered back during operation "Al Fajr" in 2004 when the Marines went street by street sweeping north to south several times with tremendous fighting in this urban environment. Today things are moving forward in a positive sense, a sign that lives taken here were not in vain.
After spending 7 hours in the city one cannot come away without acknowledging progress is being made, but are we getting closer to closure out here in the western badlands? Looking at Ramadi and Fallujah, I am encouraged to believe so, but time will tell.
The Colonel and I compare notes when we get back and share our thoughts on the day's events. He wears a smile that only another Marine could understand. I am hot, tired and hungry, he asks how am I doing, and without hesitation I reply "Great sir", and smile quietly.
Two pictures to this post: The first, the hope for the future of this country, the children. the second, a reminder that this is still a war zone with a dismounted patrol screening for the leading edge of the convoy I was riding in.