CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq -- The sounds of men shouting cadence, boots stomping down baby powder-fine sand and rocks skittering across the ground fill the air. Iraqis in green flight suits, helmets and bullet-proof vests hold their rifles in front of their chest and march in time to the commands of their blue-shirted drill instructor, an Iraqi policeman by the name of Mohammed.
While all this is taking place, Lance Cpl. Jerimy J. Goulart, a rifleman from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, watches as the Iraqi cadets are put through their paces.
Goulart, a 25-year-old Harwich, Mass., native, is one of a handful of Marines sent here from 3/6’s base of operations in Habbaniyah, Iraq. Their task is to serve as Marine liaisons to the Provincial Security Force being trained here to prepare for the PSF’s eventual return back to the Albu Issa area. The region is named for the predominant tribe in the area, the tribe whose sheik has solicited volunteers to join the fight against Al Qaeda.
“I’m a troop handler,” said Goulart, a 2000 graduate of Harwich High School. “I’m assigned to fourth squad, and the 12 Iraqis in it. We (troop handlers) make sure they get to class on time, wake up on time, or make it to the range on time.”
Maj. Mark Clingan, operations officer for 3/6, said Marines like Goulart will play a pivotal role in integrating the activities of his battalion and the PSF.
“These Marines will be working very closely with the PSF in planning and the execution of tactical missions. Ultimately, the goal is that after the PSF becomes trained and capable, they slowly become autonomous and become an extension of the Iraqi Security Forces within the region,” Clingan said.
Despite being a relatively low-ranking member of the battalion, Goulart and his fellow troop handlers shoulder a heavy burden. Their familiarity with 3/6’s standard operating procedures prompted them to add another “block” of training to the already-intense five-day package.
“We added on some training, especially about patrolling, since we’ll be doing a lot of patrolling with these guys,” added Goulart.
He said his advanced age – 25 years old is practically ancient among lance corporals, many of whom have been out of high school only two to three years – has given him a better footing in dealing with the Iraqis.
“I’m patient. I’ve also got a (high) level of knowledge” about how his company operates in their area of responsibility, he said.
Of Goulart’s quarter-century on earth, only two have been spent as a Marine. He joined the Marine Corps in 2005, after spending some time at college pursuing an aviation science degree. When he left school for reasons he keeps to himself, he returned to the blue-collar world.
“I was going to school, then I went back home to work on cars,” he recalled.
He soon grew restless working in a garage and ultimately found himself in a recruiter’s office, signing an enlistment contract, heading to boot camp and ultimately deploying to Iraq as an infantryman. His road brought him to Camp Baharia.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. It’s so boot campish. But overall it’s been pretty good,” he said of the training the PSF recruits receive.
Marine boot camp is a 13-week course designed to take a young man or woman off the streets and turn them into basically-trained but tough leathernecks. Marine recruits receive instruction in, among other things, close-order drill, marksmanship and physical training. These three topics in particular have been a point of focus for the PSF training here.
“We (exercise with) them in the morning: push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups. We took them running one morning for about a mile but some of them were having trouble keeping up so we stopped,” Goulart said with a chuckle.
The PSF members are eager to get to work in routing out elements of Al Qaeda in their neighborhoods and villages, covering an area that runs southwest of Fallujah just across the Euphrates River, to the southeast near Amiriyah and Ferris, said Chief Warrant Officer-2 Thomas Vasquez, an Iraqi Security Forces liaison with Regimental Combat Team 6.
“Basically you’ve got a guy saying, ‘If you back me up, I can do it myself,’” Vasquez said. “They say, ‘Look, we want to get in the fight.’ They can see things (Coalition Forces) can’t.”
“The PSF is … effective because they’re even more local than the (Iraqi Police). They will know if this person should be in the neighborhood or not. If they see someone and they don’t know him, they can talk to him for two or three minutes and know if he’s an insurgent or not. That’s why the PSF is so vital to the area,” he said.
A 33-year-old PSF member, who asked that his name not be used, explained his rationale for joining the PSF.
“I do this first to defend ourselves, because we want to get rid of the terrorists, especially Al Qaeda,” said the Albu Issa tribesman through an interpreter. “What Al Qaeda does is to get rid of all human rights and hurts our faith. Most Muslims don’t accept Al Qaeda’s way.”
When the PSF class graduated May 23, Goulart reflected on their progress and held out hope for the future.
“They’ve learned the basics of patrolling, real rudimentary stuff. Once they start working with (3/6), we’ll get them squared away,” he said. “I think with the time they had, they definitely learned a lot. It’s a lot to cram in to six or seven days. They did good.”
After handing each graduate a navy blue Iraqi Police hat and uniform patch bearing the colors of the Iraqi national flag, Col. Faisal, the police chief of the Fallujah district Iraqi Police, called the class to attention. Mohammed, the Iraqi Police drill instructor, took charge of the formation and marched them out, onto the road taking the fight to Al Qaeda in Iraq.