by Sgt Stephen M Deboard GCE RCT6 PAO CHIEF
We recently spent a few days with Marines with third platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Bn., 5th Marine Regiment, in the heart of Fallujah. It’s one of the cruel tricks of history that those who are making it don’t know they are at the time. The same holds true for these guys. To say that what they’re doing is amazing would be to criminally understate the facts.
Anyone familiar with the Combined Action Platoons of the Vietnam War will understand what’s going on here. These Marines live, work, sleep, eat and bathe in the same neighborhoods they are helping to stabilize. In doing so, they’re no longer driving in from a forward operating base, or FOB, outside the city and conducting patrols. Instead, they wake up in the morning, plan a patrol, then walk out into the neighborhood and greet the men and women sweeping their sidewalks or tending their shops. They’re literally swarmed with children wanting a high five or a piece of chocolate. They visit schools, markets and local infrastructure projects to see how things are going. There are no interrogations or mean faces, just a neighborly walk through their district to check on the locals who sometimes know them by name.
Though 2nd Bn., 6th Marine Regiment, laid the foundations for what the “Darkhorse” battalion is doing here now, these Marines have picked up the ball and run with it. They’re lead by young corporals and lance corporals as squad and fire team leaders, 20- and 21-year-old men who keep their squads disciplined and focused on a daily basis.
Unexpected results abound here. One is the wave of illness that recently spread through third platoon’s home. Marked by violent nausea, cramps and fatigue, the whatever-it-was virus didn’t slow the Marines down. They kept up their pace of patrols and never took a time out because of a sore tummy. The spread of the illness was contained by the attention of the platoon corpsmen to hygiene, and not a single Marine left the platoon’s position to head back to company to get some rest. They all stayed to continue doing their jobs.
Another thing was kind of shocking to us on our visit. Every morning we awoke to two unusual things: the smell of eggs cooking and the sounds of babies crying. The smells came from the makeshift kitchen the Marines had assembled in their home out of a couple of hotplates, where they were cooking up eggs purchased from local markets. The crying came from homes where locals live not 10 feet from their doorstep. While this certainly wouldn’t be unusual back in the States, it made our ears perk up to realize that we were living so closely with our neighbors we could hear them carrying out the routines of their daily lives.
It is said that familiarity in a combat zone breeds complacency, and this is certainly true here. But according to Lance Cpl. Christopher J. Parra, a 22-year-old San Antonio native and team leader with the platoon, they’ve struck a proper balance.
“It’s hard to hit the right level of alertness. When I first got here I was looking at every trashpile, every danger area, every place where, if the locals weren’t on our side, they could kill us. But I had to tone it down before I shot someone. On the other side of that you don’t want to get too complacent,” he said.
Parra is on his second tour here.
To our eyes during our very brief visit, they still maintained a high level of alertness and an adherence to security protocols drilled into them during pre-deployment training. But they displayed a high level of maturity in that they continued to maintain their own safety while keeping a low profile amongst the people who had lived here their whole lives.
It’s simply amazing what these young men are doing. They’re living on military rations and fatty, junky muffins but still try to maintain a basic level of fitness. They’re showering with city water, which is essentially coming straight out of the Euphrates. Bathroom breaks are conducted in tents and tubes, and laundry is done in a bucket with a scrub brush with whatever soap they can find. It is a very, very spartan existence, but these warriors are holding themselves to the standard the American people hold them to. They are honorable; they are respectful but firm; cautious but friendly; young but filled with a worldly maturity that indicates they know exactly what the stakes are here.
Can you tell our respect level for these leathernecks is for the roof? They are doing everything exactly right and upholding every tenet the Marine Corps stands for: honor, courage and commitment. These are the warriors who will be written about when they write books about Fallujah.