AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Benjamin L. Griffith has a particularly important job in addition to being a machine gunner for Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
The 21-year-old from Cassoday, Kan., is also an instructor for his company’s Combine Action Platoon, which trains new members of the Iraqi Security Forces at their base, Camp Ali, here in the Al Anbar capital.
After the ISF complete 12 days of intense training at the camp and learn how to conduct security and stabilization operations from his fellow Marines, Griffith takes them out into the city. Leading a squad at a time – between five and eight ISF soldiers-- Griffith hones their newly learned SASO skills by having them conduct foot patrols.
“My role is to keep training them as we go along on missions out here,” explained the 2002 Flint Hill High School graduate, as he signaled to an ISF member to provide security from a street corner during a recent presence patrol with Company C Marines. “The best way to learn is by doing the real thing.”
Griffith and his Iraqi counterparts attach themselves to a squad of Marines from the infantry battalion’s line companies. Griffith works solely with Company C.
“We go out almost everyday,” he said. “I make sure they’re applying the patrol fundamentals they spent two weeks learning from us.”
Griffith has been carrying out his mentorship task for more than a month. During which time, he’s learned several words of Arabic.
“I know enough to get my point across to them,” he said.
According to Griffith the ISF are learning and performing the skills that the Marines are teaching them.
“We’re putting their skills to the test out here, and they’re doing well,” he said. “I see them improve from one day to the next regardless of what we throw at them. They’re good listeners and fast learners.”
Griffith said the ISF have certain advantages over Marines when patrolling the streets and searching houses.
“They speak the native tongue,” he said. “For Marines, the language barrier is sometimes difficult to get around, especially if they don’t have an interpreter with them.”
Griffith also appraised the ISF’s ability to search houses. They proved his statement true midway into the undertaking when Company C’s 3rd Squad, 3rd Platoon searched a dwelling.
Corporal Paul M. Odonnell, a team leader with the squad, questioned the residents to find out if they owned a weapon.
“Do you have a rifle,” he asked a man, who in turn replied by shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head in confusion. “A rifle,” the 23-year-old New Burgh, N.Y., said again pointing to his M-16A4 Service Rifle.
One of the ISF members, who understood a bit of English, asked the man in Arabic if he owned a weapon. The man immediately retrieved an AK-47 from his closet.
The Marines and ISF searched several other houses before turning their foot patrol around and heading back to Camp Snake Pit.
While they patrolled, Griffith encouraged his ISF soldiers to converse with the civilians they met along the way.
“It’s important for them to talk with the local Iraqis because they are eventually going to be conducting all the security missions in Iraq,” he explained. “The local people need to establish a trust with the ISF, which I think most of them have. They seem to like having the ISF around conducting patrols through their neighborhoods. They’re more open to the ISF.”
Though Griffith didn’t anticipate filling such a billet when he visited his local Marine recruiter in Modesto, Calif., in 2003 and enlisted as a machine gunner, he’s satisfied with how things have turned out.
“I sure didn’t think I’d be training ISF to take over securing Iraq when I joined,” he said with a chuckle. “This is an important part of the overall mission, though, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m confident that the ISF will be able to assume the mission of safeguarding Iraq so we can leave.”