AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Less than two months ago, the Iraqi people made history when they took to the polls and voted for officials in their country's first democratic election on Jan. 30.
The officials elected to represent the Al Anbar province invited 2nd Marine Division's Assistant Division Commander Brig. Gen. Joseph J. McMenamin, to attend their first provincial council meeting at the Provincial Capital Building here as they began the work to establish democracy in their region of the country.
The assistant division commander was invited so that he could see the progress being made in the province.
"This is a landmark," said Lieutenant j.g. Mike A. Quaresimo, the information officer for Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. "It's the first time elected Iraqi officials are meeting and are able to make decisions on their own with the good of the nations people in mind."
The meeting proved democracy is working in Iraq, according to Quaresimo, a 32-year-old Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native.
"The fact that they are meeting together shows the courage of the Iraqi people, who took the chance of being killed to vote and the success of the (Iraqi Security Forces) having the courage to provide security," he said. "The commitment of the Marines and other multinational forces to provide security at the request of the Interim Iraqi Government is (paying off)."
Eventually, these provincial members will meet with the national assembly and draft Iraq's permanent constitution that will pave the way for national elections, Quaresimo explained. Elections for Iraq's national body will be held starting in December, he said.
"We are here to assist them with the transformation and creation of an Iraqi government," explained one observer, "but it is ultimately their responsibility and their task to accomplish."
Now that 2nd Marine Division has assumed responsibility for the SASO mission in this area, it will continue the efforts made by the 1st Marine Division to assist in providing a secure and stable country for the Iraqi people.
"We are providing support for the formation of official Iraqi military forces," the observer said. " This includes training them, providing logistical support, force protection, and improving base infrastructures. This is a primary mission for us.
Insurgents tried to stop the meeting from taking place, but elements for 1st Battalion, 5th Marines were on hand to ensure everything ran smoothly.
"We're here to show our presence," explained Cpl. Nathan R. Bush, a 24-year-old Russell, Mass., native and team leader for 4th platoon, Company A. "Us being there basically said, 'the Marines are around so don't try anything stupid.' We'll also looked for (improvised explosive devices), weapons caches and things out of the ordinary.'"
The 1999 Westfield Vocational Technical School graduate and the rest of his platoon patrolled the market place, which is two blocks adjacent to where the meeting took place. It's usually a bustling center of activity and insurgents have been known to congregate there.
The Marines discovered one vehicle-born IED, which they blew up in a controlled detonation. Insurgents perched on rooftops also took pop-shots at Marines, but no one was injured.
"Everything went pretty smoothly."