FALLUJAH, Iraq -- He may be 18 years old, but he’s already shouldered responsibilities some middle-aged American citizens have never even considered taking on.
“Ever since I’ve joined the Marines, I’ve felt like I’ve been growing up faster. Out here, you have no choice but to grow up; lives depend on it,” explained Pfc. Jason F. Roland, a rifleman with Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment; a Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit currently deployed here.
Among the tasks the young Seaford, N.Y. native performs alongside his fellow Marines is helping the Iraqi army provide security for Fallujah’s residents, as they pick up the pieces of their lives fractured by previous conflicts and a tyrannical regime.
On May 15, the 2004 Seaford High School graduate’s unit and Iraqi Security Forces conducted Operation Medical Mentoring to help further this cause.
During this mission, Iraqi and American medical personnel traveled to two local clinics to speak with physicians and administrators, asking them how Iraqi and U.S. forces could help make Iraq’s medical system better.
While these talks took place, Company B Marines like Roland manned perimeter security.
“My role was to help check out the places we went to and make sure there was nothing unsafe about it,” Roland stated. “I basically kept an overall security watch on the area.”
As Roland and his teammates stood watch, Iraqi soldiers inside the clinics handed the local physicians boxes of medical supplies, such as acute care medications, to augment their depleted stores.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi military doctor and local physicians discussed logistical difficulties the clinics have been experiencing.
“Their biggest complaint was the supply system,” explained Navy Lt. Brendon Drew, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment’s surgeon. “Due to security reasons and insurgent activity in Ramadi, and in between Fallujah and Baghdad, the traditional supply routes for medication transportation are broken down right now. Because of this breakdown, they (clinic personnel) can’t get medications as fast as they need.”
Additionally, local physicians mentioned ambulance movement as another concern.
“Our ambulances have trouble moving freely at night,” said Tha’er Basheer Abdullah, a medical practitioner at the Al-Jolani clinic.
Even emergency vehicles are subject to searches, as insurgents attempt to use vehicles such as these to hide weapons and explosives. Iraqi and Marine security forces search and push ambulances through checkpoints as quickly as possible, but a delay remains.
Drew added that ‘Medical Mentoring’ served as an opportunity to ask the doctors to remind their patients that many solutions rest in their own hands.
“When the Iraqi people don’t allow insurgent activity anymore, then these types of controls won’t be necessary. Some of the problems in the healthcare system are directly related to insurgent activity.”
As Iraqi and American personnel work with the community to resolve these logistical issues, Roland and his teammates continue working with the ISF to provide security and stability to the city’s people.
“We’ve been doing a lot of patrolling throughout the city, and doing the ‘Greenback’ mission to ensure the money transition went smoothly,” Roland said.
He referred to his role during ‘Operation Greenback,’ another ongoing civil-military project. During ‘Greenback,’ Marines provide security within Fallujah’s Jolan Park compound, where Iraqi officials are distributing a total of approximately $100 million in dinar to many of Fallujah’s residents. This serves as compensation money for damages done to homes and businesses during last year’s battle to rid the city of insurgents.
Roland added that he enjoys performing missions like these, as they give him and fellow Marines a break from routine patrols and manning security posts.
“The community seems to like us a lot,” he continued. “The kids always clap and dance when we come by. I think, for the most part, they appreciate us being here.”
Additionally, Roland said his Marine Corps experience has taught him personal lessons stateside folks may never know.
“It definitely makes me see my friends back home, not as any less, but just differently. It makes me feel good that I’m able to do stuff over here to allow them to just be able to be back home and relax.”