Photo Information

SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq - Maj. Chris E. Phelps, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment's civil affairs team leader, shakes hands with some local farmers while patrolling alongside Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel here. Civil affairs Marines are conducting assessments on the community here to determine what utilities and services the local population needs.

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

ISF, 1/6 branch out during ‘Operation Badlands’

13 Apr 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

The metallic grinding sound of assault amphibian vehicles and the rumble of truck engines cut through the silent, early morning air as dozens of armored transports penetrate the town.The vehicles offload armed Marines and Iraqi soldiers at various points throughout the town. They rush into the pitch black streets and nearby homes, setting up hasty positions from which to operate.This was the scene of the pre-dawn hours here April 12, when Iraqi Security Forces, Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and supporting mechanized elements from Regimental Combat Team-8 moved to secure the town of Saqlawiyah and establish a base of operations here.ISF personnel and Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment will operate just northwest of Fallujah conducting security and stability operations designed to root out insurgent activity and illegal weapons caches.According to Capt. Ed Burns, the battalion’s assistant operations officer, the Iraqi and U.S. forces have thus far apprehended several known insurgent supporters.The 36-year-old Bethesda, Md. native added that Saqlawiyah is one of the major areas outside Fallujah where insurgents could attempt to regroup.The 1997 Arizona State University graduate also said this town can serve as a key transportation location for insurgents due to its proximity to bigger cities like Ramadi and Mosul.As part of their mission, ISF and Company A personnel will remain entrenched here. The troops will continue to fortify their base of operations and constantly conduct joint Iraqi-American patrols throughout the area.“We’re just going to keep on doing basic counter-insurgency operations,” stated Staff Sgt. Jason A. Rockwell, 2nd Platoon’s, Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment platoon sergeant.The 27-year-old New London, N.H. native added that along with these operations, the troops work with civil affairs Marines to help rebuild the community here.Team 3, Detachment 2, 5th Civil Affairs Group, the CAG team in direct support of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment operations, patrol with the ISF and Marines with Company A to speak with the Iraqis and assess their needs. The team helps the population rebuild its infrastructure by determining what facilities, such as water pumps and power stations, need replaced or restored.Rockwell, a 1996 Kearsarge High School graduate, also said that the Iraqi soldiers are instrumental in accomplishing these counter-insurgency operations here.“They’re good soldiers, and we work well with them,” he continued. “They help with things that we might be unfamiliar with in the area and help us talk to the people to make sure they know we’re here to help and not hurt them in any manner whatsoever.”ISF personnel are present in every patrol and raid the battalion conducts.“The ISF are a huge asset on patrol,” stated Sgt. Richard W. Shelp, the squad leader for 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon. “They speak the language and they know when something’s just not right. If a guy starts speaking Arabic and he’s from Syria, we wouldn’t know, but they do.”Rockwell added that the local soldiers already helped Marines apprehend an insurgent supporter early in the deployment at one of Fallujah’s vehicle entry control points.“They can tell by looking at vehicles where they’re from, and which ones might be bad,” he continued. “Just by talking to the people and picking out their dialect, they can tell who’s from around here, and who shouldn’t be here.”Burns agreed with Rockwell’s assessment.“We try to spin our Marines up on Iraqi culture before deploying, but when we get here, there are still big gaps to be filled. I was lucky enough to be stationed in Saudi Arabia last year, living with Arabs and learning the culture. Unfortunately, that’s not available to lance corporals on the ground, so they (ISF personnel) help facilitate more of this cultural learning.”Pvt. Kaiser Mohssen Ali, a soldier with the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 1st Brigade, said he feels happy to work alongside U.S. forces to contribute to this cultural understanding and help secure Saqlawiyah.“I like serving my country to help make it safe. We are working to build the country up. If we don’t do it, who will?” Ali added that along with patrolling, he mans guard and observation posts, conducts raids alongside Marines and fellow ISF soldiers and serves as a driver for his company.“I worked for four months with the Marines in Fallujah before coming out here,” he continued. “I feel comfortable with them and all the soldiers around me.”Days after the initial push into the small rural town, the sounds of mechanized transports have been replaced by “Hey mister,” the common greeting of the children to patrolling troops. The residents now walk the city streets beside their own nation’s soldiers on patrol. With the vigilant eyes of the soldiers and Marines overseeing the village, Saqlawiyah’s residents can sleep easy and look forward to a brighter future free from terrorists.