Photo Information

SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq - 1st Lt. Michael Regner, Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment executive officer, left, gives Oliver North a tour through Company A's base of operations here May 9. North is currently visiting U.S. servicemembers throughout Iraq and reporting on the joint Iraqi-Coalition civil-military accomplishments.

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

Caught in the spotlight: Oliver North visits Marines on Iraqi frontlines

9 May 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

From a distance, the joint Iraqi-Marine patrol seemed like any other: armed men walking down the city streets, rifles pointed down, eyes scanning the surroundings for any threats. Although he too wore desert camouflage utilities, it was the gentleman walking in the middle of the formation that made this patrol distinct. Veteran Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, retired, now a renowned broadcast journalist and New York Times bestselling author, accompanied the Iraqi soldiers and Civil Affairs Group Marines in direct support of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, as they walked about Saqlawiyah’s streets. He too was on a mission: ensuring that it would be more than the local citizens watching the troops as they go about their daily mission of helping rebuild the city’s infrastructure. As they patrolled by run-down businesses and roadside markets, North and his video production crew remained at the troops’ sides, capturing every frame of the action. “It’s very clear to me that things are much better here than they were a few years ago,” commented North, who has been in Iraq five times before. “Before, you wouldn’t even walk around Camp Fallujah without a flak and Kevlar (anti fragmentation vest and ballistic helmet.)” North added that Iraq is safer now because of missions such as the one the Iraqi soldiers and their Marine counterparts performed during his visit. While he observed, Maj. Chris E. Phelps’ CAG team, the Iraqi soldiers, and other U.S. military personnel continued to build a bond of trust with the local citizens by working alongside Iraqi contractors and laborers to rebuild Saqlawiyah. “Today was a culmination of about two and a half weeks of work,” stated Phelps, a Shawnee, Kan. native. The 1993 University of Kansas graduate referred to his team’s ongoing projects in Saqlawiyah’s medical clinic and Al-Dahr school. Both projects were started soon after Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel established a base of operations here in April. Phelps added that his team has also conducted site assessments on numerous schools in the city to see what improvements each one needed. “The Al-Dahr school was by far the worst school in the entire Saqlawiyah proper,” he continued. “It had two sinks that didn’t work, and three toilets that were literally gurgling human waste. Now, we’ve got the water running, they’ve got a septic tank out back, and 200 kids here have a better bathroom.” The Marines will continue partnering with local workers to improve the schools. “Almost all of the schools in the area have the exact same problems … broken windows, doors that don’t lock, and bad plumbing,” Phelps continued. “As we build more relationships with the contractors, we plan to start working on all of the schools at once. We want to put the full press on the schools when they go out of season in June, so when the kids come back in August, they have some unbelievable schools right here in Saqlawiyah.” This also helps gain the community’s trust, Phelps added. “Years down the road, these kids are going to remember when 15 Marines came into their school and made a difference. At the same time, it (restoring schools) also employs plumbers, contractors and electricians, so people are going to work. It puts money into the economy.” North observed as the CAG Marines paid a local contractor for a job well done at the Al-Dahr school. Their next step: Saqlawiyah’s medical clinic. Here, Navy Seabees and Marine personnel installed three makeshift biohazard waste incinerators, two 55-gallon biohazard material storage barrels for used syringes, and community information read board. Local doctors posted information on upcoming inoculations, as an Iraqi soldier put up a pro-Iraqi military poster reading ‘Your Country, Your Safety, Your Future.’ Additionally, personnel posted ads encouraging local contractors and truck drivers to see their city council representatives for employment opportunities. Afterward, North and the troops headed back to Camp Fallujah to conduct a final round of interviews and discuss the day’s successes. North will continue traveling throughout Iraq, reporting on how Iraqi and Coalition forces are helping Iraq become a stronger nation everyday. For now, the decorated war veteran said he left 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s operational area with a bright outlook on Iraq’s future and a renewed faith in the Global War on Terrorism’s success. “I remind my civilian friends that we’re the only nation in the world that sends its sons and daughters into harm’s way for an ideal, and that ideal is freedom. Our goals are noble. If this country is no longer a haven for terrorists, then we’re safer at home.”