CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- U.S. Marine Gen. James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, said Al Qa’im, Iraq, a region in northwestern Al Anbar Province, is a model for the rest of Iraq to look up to.
He said Al Qa’im’s stability is a direct result from the success Coalition Forces had during combat operations here over the past four years and the cooperation and support from the Iraqi citizens.
Furthermore, Conway imparted a “hats off” to the Marines and Sailors serving in the Al Qa’im area with Task Force 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, a Twentynine Palms, Calif.,-based battalion, during a recent visit with them here, April 6, 2007.
“This used to be the ‘wild, wild west,’” said the newly appointed and 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps. “There have been some great battalions that have been through here and paid through blood, sweat and tears to make [Al Qa’im] what it is today.”
Alongside Conway during the visit was the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. John L. Estrada, who, at the time, had 19 days left as the Corps most senior enlisted Marine.
“You all have made a difference – a positive difference – for rest of Iraq and people all around to look at,” said Estrada, 15th sergeant major of the Marine Corps.
The two traveled throughout Al Anbar Province, the largest province in Iraq, to visit more than nearly 25,000 Marines and Sailors in a period of four days.
Their most stressed issue of discussion was American support of the U.S. troops serving in Iraq and support of the ongoing war on terrorism.
“There’s a lot of debate going on as to whether or not we need to be here and whether or not we need to stay much longer,” said Conway. “What you don’t need to mistake is that means people have lost their support as for what you are doing out here.
“There’s a certain timeline here that we see it takes us to do the job, and [the U.S. President] is going to try to give us that time, so we can do our business here and leave with our heads held high,” added Conway.
Conway also spoke about upcoming plans with manufacturing and distributing new equipment and gear that will be essential in saving lives in combat.
Since their deployment to the Al Qa’im, region in September, Task Force 3/4 has found and rendered safe more than 155 improvised explosive devices [IEDs] and 12 land mines. They have also uncovered more than 78 weapons caches, hidden in the streets and farmlands of the several Euphrates River cities that lie here.
U.S. Marine Col. H. Stacy. Clardy, commander of Regimental Combat Team-2, a Marine Corps command responsible for more than 30,000 square miles and 5,500 Marines and Sailors in Al Anbar Province, was on one of the patrols with Task Force 3/4’s India Company when they discovered an IED on the side of the road March 7, 2007.
“These IEDs are designed to destroy and destabilize; to create fear and mistrust,” said Clardy. “Through patrolling, we learn our areas of operation, gain valuable information about the people we are tasked to protect and the enemy we are tasked to defeat, and teach our fellow Iraqi Security Forces how to conduct combat operations and fight insurgents.”
The Marines with Task Force 3/4 were also tasked with patrolling and working alongside the 1-year-old Iraq Police and the Iraqi Army here, imparting with them military tactics and procedures essential to manning their country on their own. Long days and nights of patrolling alongside the Iraqi Security Forces have paid off for the Marines as the Iraqi police and army are patrolling more on their own and growing less dependent on U.S. forces.
“My goal for Al Qa’im is to continue the path of progress. In fact, I am specifically tasked by each level of command above me to maintain the success attained by the sacrifice of the Marines and Sailors who served in this area,” said Clardy. “They recognize the strategic value of this success. I am committed to do whatever is necessary to keep Al Qa’im securely in the embrace of a strong Iraqi Security Force and the partnered Coalition Forces.”
Working into their eighth month of what was supposed to be a seven-month deployment, the Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/4 are anticipating a safe return home.
“Yes, we’ve been doing a great job here and not only did we accomplish every mission we executed but they all functioned really well,” said Lance Cpl. Pierre H. Donaldson II, a 24-year-old rifleman from Detroit who is part of a Military Transition Team, a group of servicemen assigned specifically to mentor, monitor and train the Iraqi Army. “But, I feel like our time we served here is culminating. We maintained combat effectiveness for eight months… I feel like it’s time to go home now.”
Task Force 3/4, which is comprised of not only the southern Calif.-based battalion but as well as other Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army units attached to the task force for different assignments and logistical support, have achieved the job Conway said the Marine Corps command has exactly hoped they would do when they were put in this region of Coalition operations.
“Hats off to you, gang, for the job that you’ve done,” said Conway. “You can go home with your head held high.”
As a result from bringing up to speed the Iraqi Security Forces, providing them with mid-level leadership training, distributing Marine units throughout the region for patrolling the streets, rendering safe explosive devices and bringing down wanted insurgents, the Mayor of Al Qa’im region says this area is “the safest place” in Al Anbar Province.
“[The Marines and Sailors] should be equally proud of the success they enjoy in this latest deployment to Al Anbar,” said Clardy. “They are making a tremendous difference in the security of the United States and in the world through their commitment and valor. The Al Qa’im region is a beacon of hope for the rest of Al Anbar and Iraq.”
The battalion’s fourth combat deployment to Iraq since their initial push to Baghdad in March 2003 is coming to and end. One of the few battalions in the Marine Corps to deploy four times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, 3/4, dubbed “Shanghai 3/4” for assigned duties in garrison in Shanghai, China in 1927, prepares for a redeployment home.
Just like most Marines and Sailors here, Estrada said he’s happy the battalion is going home to their families soon.
“There’s a lot of sacrifices today, being a Marine,” said Estrada to the Marines and Sailors of Task Force 3/4. “We have been at war longer than we’ve been at war in WWII. This is the most battle hardened Marines we had in a long, long time. And you are part of it. You have made history and you’ve added to our proud and great tradition. I look forward to you going home soon.”