FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Spending ten hours clothed in 60 pounds of body armor and weaponry, while working in temperatures upward of 110 F, is the unappealing but necessary reality young infantrymen like Lance Cpl. Raleigh Krigbaum live here everyday.
Since mid-March, the 19-year-old Canton, Ohio native’s unit, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, has been conducting counter-insurgency and humanitarian aid operations in and around Fallujah. Their latest effort to quash the insurgency here was Operation Hard Knock, during which Krigbaum’s fellow Company B Marines worked alongside mechanized units, infantrymen aboard vehicles, and Iraqi Security Forces. Together, the troops searched sectors of Northern Fallujah for terrorists, weapons and explosives.
During Hard Knock, Krigbaum reflected upon the progress the joint Iraqi-Coalition team made here during the past few months.
“I’ve seen a definite change since we’ve been here,” stated Krigbaum, a 2004 Glenoak High School graduate. “People have started cleaning up around here, so there’s not as much trash in the streets. The locals are coming over to us, waving and smiling, instead of shutting their doors and hushing their kids when we’re around.”
During Hard Knock, the troops wired off entire neighborhoods and asked citizens to remain inside their homes while they searched through every property in the sector.
Additionally, the Marines gathered census information on each household, such as the names of all personnel who lived in each residency.
Despite the community-wide disruption, Krigbaum said the populace’s attitude remained generally helpful as the troops explained to them that these missions were for everyone’s safety.
Although Fallujah has generally become a peaceful city, insurgents continue emplacing roadside bombs and attacking forces. Military personnel conduct constant patrols and periodic sweeps such as Hard Knock to counter this.
During last month’s operation Company B and ISF troops uncovered a submachine gun, several rocket propelled grenade launchers, rockets, high explosive artillery rounds, and materials used to make IEDs.
However, Krigbaum said that many of these findings would not be possible without the support of Fallujah’s populace.
“The peoples sometimes come up and tell us things we need to know,” he added, referring to how the troops rely greatly on local informants to discover insurgent and arms caches whereabouts. “When we first got here, a lot of people seemed really scared of us. Now, we have more open communication with them.”
This improvement in relations is due in part to prior humanitarian operations he and fellow Company B Marines participated in, Krigbaum said.
“Jolan Park really helped us win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people,” he continued, referring to Operation Greenback, the first major mission his battalion undertook upon arriving here.
During Operation Greenback, the Marines worked with the ISF to provide security in downtown Fallujah’s troubled Jolan Park district. There, Iraqi officials distributed approximately $100 million (worth of American dollars) in Iraqi dinar to many of Fallujah’s residents as reparation money for damages done to homes and businesses during last year’s offensive.
Krigbaum and his fellow infantrymen continue operating hand-in-hand with the Iraqi soldiers to rebuild Fallujah’s infrastructure and root out remaining terrorists. All the while, he maintains an optimistic attitude as he sees his daily efforts helping make the city a safer place.
“This is my first deployment, and it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot from being out here so far,” Krigbaum stated. “You learn to have an open mind, and that not everything you see on TV is all true. There’s a lot of progress going on here that I didn’t know of when I was back in the States. Houses and soccer fields are being rebuilt, and more kids are playing in the streets.”