FALLUJAH, Iraq -- One year after the city was secured by Coalition Forces as part of a major counter-insurgency offensive, parts of Fallujah are still in disrepair. Bullet holes in buildings, piles of rubble and the smell of burning trash permeates the air throughout the city.
Despite the unpleasant living conditions, children roam the streets here playing with their new friends, the U.S. Marines.
A group of laughing kids surrounds one Marine in the street. The Marine, Lance Cpl. Felipe SantosMesquita, a squad automatic weapon gunner with 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon, Company E, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is in the middle of the mob handing out candy.
The 22-year-old, Edison, N.J., native has the biggest smile of everyone present on his face as he teases the children before giving them their chocolate.
The children respond with a rapid-fire torrent of Arabic and SantosMesquita, without understanding a word being said, just smiles and shakes his head.
SantosMesquita enjoys helping the people of Iraq.
“I think that what we are doing out here is the best thing possible for them. We are working to free their country from insurgents,” SantosMesquita added. “We are not here to fight the people of Iraq; we are here to fight the insurgents.
“The whole thing with these kids is that you can change their mindset about us,” said SantosMesquita. “The older generations are pretty much set in their ways; we can change the next generation.”
The Perth Amboy High School graduate thinks that the older generation is capable of some things however.
“They’re able to take over right now,” he said. “The Iraqi Army troops are pretty good right now. We just have to get them trained up that last little bit.”
SantosMesquita, who was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and immigrated to America nine years ago, says he plans to become a U.S. citizen after his deployment with the battalion. However he didn’t join the Marine Corps solely to become a citizen.
“I have always wanted to be a Marine, ever since I was a little boy,” said SantosMesquita.
The Marines working with SantosMesquita say his hard work ethic and strong loyalty to his fellow Marines is noticed by all.
“He is a good Marine, a good leader,” said Cpl. Jose A. Pego, the squad leader for 2nd Squad. “He is a very loyal guy, and has the potential to be a good non-commissioned officer.”