By Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis
Regimental Combat Team 1
KARMAH, Iraq – Marines operating in Karmah, Iraq are bored.
The Marines' area of operations gives them little opportunity to execute complex fire and maneuver tactics, and there is little opportunity to employ some of the comprehensive training they received prior to deploying to Iraq.
But boring is good.
Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, is pressing forward with their role in Operation Iraqi Freedom - empowering the Iraqi people.
Almost a third of the way through their deployment, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines has assumed a supervisory role. They continue to patrol, pursue remaining insurgents and help to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.
The Marines have left Iraqi forces to serve as the hand of action, the nails of reestablishment pursuing rule of law.
The "boredom" may not be what Marines signed up for, but it's the phase of the operation they are fighting and the challenges remain.
"The fact of the matter is, when nothing is going on, Marines are doing their job," said Staff Sgt. Mike Brown, a 27-year-old platoon commander from Jacksonville Fla., with Company C, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.
Brown was here during the earlier stages of the war. He was deployed to Iraq in 2003, and remembers when Iraqi police, or security forces altogether, were nonexistent.
"Because we were the main effort, operational tempo was non-stop," he said. "At least one long-range, short-range patrol a day."
Brown explained the patrols in previous deployments did not leave the Marines "hungry for action" like now.
"Every day, you were seeing something," he explained. "If you weren't getting shot at, you were getting blown up."
Despite Marines relative inactivity, Brown insists the lull in action is a result of all the hard work by Marines both past and present.
Iraqi security forces have not only begun the Provincial Iraqi Control transition from Marines, they have become effective at taking over tactics and techniques they have learned from Marines.
ISF in the Marines AO recently uncovered a weapons cache large enough to arm a small militia which included more than a 1,000 mortar rounds, dozens of rockets and numerous grenades.
"There's a better, more professional Iraqi presence on the streets right now," said Sgt. Ken Jones, a 26-year-old patrol leader from Evansville Ind., with Charlie Mobile, Company C., 1st Bn., 3rd Marines. "They're going in the right direction, finding caches and suspected insurgents; it shows the change in mentality, and increased dedication since last year."
Jones said since the battalion's last deployment to Haditha he sees a big difference is the pride and dedication Iraqi forces have toward serving their country. Operations are handled with an obvious amount of concern for mission accomplishment, he said.
An increased level of progress might be common in most areas of Iraq at this stage of the war, but for Karmah, a key foothold for insurgents because of its location, gaining stability has been difficult but important.
"Karmah is where people live when they don't want to live in big cities they might work in – it's a staging area, like Alexandria, Va., to Washington, D.C.," said Capt. Michael Deredita, a 26-year-old assistant operations officer from Stafford, Va., with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.
Deredita explained because of the city's close proximity to Baghdad and porous city borders, its location establishes it as the last area to likely see an increase in insurgent activity.
"If you control Karmah, you control the western gate to the Anbar province," he said.
Since the turnover to Provincial Iraqi Control, ISF has done a good job of controlling the area, said Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Jones, a 35-year-old training and operations watch chief, from Baltimore, with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.
"From 2003 to now, it's been a huge turnaround for Iraqi security forces," said Jones. "They're taking more initiative. They're finding improvised explosive devices and caches. They want to take their country back."
Jones was a platoon sergeant with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, on their last deployment to Iraq, and said he remembers patrolling with Iraqi forces very little. He said he can see a considerable increase in their level of proficiency this deployment by their proactive approach.
"They proved me wrong so far [this deployment]," said Jones. "They're trying to govern their own country, depending less and less on Marine help. Marines no longer the [functioning as the] main effort for raids and patrols shows that."
Some of the battalion's newer Marines deployed seeking a Combat Action Ribbon, an award common during earlier years in OIF, but their current mission has proved somewhat disappointing.
"We have trained since day one for combat," said Lance Cpl. Jon Shadoan, a19-year-old rifleman from Jacksonville, Ala., with Company C, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines. "Then you get here with a chance to use the training we've received, but [coalition forces] are already past that. It's good the Iraqi's are finally taking their country back, though. Little conflict for us is actually a good thing."
While the Marines' mission may not be exactly what they expected, their role remains an important part of rebuilding Iraq and helping to bring peace to a war ravished nation.
"A real warrior wants peace," Brown said. "Being 'bored' is a good thing. If you're in a firefight and your buddy goes down, you'll understand then how much better it was to be bored – because at least you were bored with your buddy."
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