BARWANAH, Iraq- --
Progress continues to be made in Al Anbar Province. A city once threatened by small arms fire, populace intimidation, improvised explosive devices and snipers is experiencing a renaissance.
This renaissance is due to the continued presence of the Marines assigned to Alpha Company, Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2 in and around the town, and the recent build up of Iraqi Security Forces.
“When we first got here things were running very slow and not many stores were open, but now a lot of new businesses are opening and people seem to be a lot more friendly and helpful with us,” said Sgt. Anthony C. Galloway, a section leader with Weapons Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2.
Galloway, a veteran of the Battle of Fallujah has seen combat at its most intense but was still a little reserved upon his arrival in country.
“You never know what to expect when entering a combat zone,” said Galloway . “I was imagining it was going to be just like my first deployment to Iraq, which was all out war and nothing but combat.”
This deployment has been less intense than what Galloway experienced two years ago, but there have been numerous challenges faced by 1/3. It takes time to win over the local populace, but Galloway has noticed a big change since Alpha Company first arrived here and is impressed by the way the local people have taken to his Company.
“You can tell a lot by the attitude of the local people,” said Galloway. “They give information to us about terrorists or suspected insurgents, when they couldn’t before for fear of their lives. With the stability of the city though, the local people have such freedom now to give the Marines information.”
Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Stutts, a machine gunner in the Company, has also noticed how the local populace seems to be much more accepting of the Marines.
“They seem to be very thankful for the security we provide. A lot of times they will come out to say hello, or give us sodas while we’re on a patrol,” said Stutts. “That’s the one thing that stands out, the people. This is my first deployment, but I didn’t expect the people to be so friendly, they’re awesome.”
Stutts said although the situation has improved, he still remains aware of the enemy.
“Even though I feel safe here, I still keep my guard up and keep the mindset in case the time comes when we do get contact,” said Stutts, a Texas native. “You never know when you may go around a corner and get blown up or take contact.”
Cpl. Anthony P. Mitchell, an intelligence analyst with the Company, said due to a berm that was built around the city in December as a part of Operation Majid, the IEDs inside the city are rare.
“A lot of the caches were found along the edge of the Euphrates,” said Mitchell. “We don’t see them nearly as much due to the increase of the company’s patrols in the area.”
Mitchell went on to explain another reason for the success seen today was due to the units who operated in Barwanah prior to 1/3’s arrival.
“The Marines from second Battalion, third Marines and second Battalion, fourth Marines had a big mission to secure the city. By the time Alpha Company arrived, it already had much, not all, of the qualities and stability we see today,” said Mitchell, a native of Burlington, Colo. “The problem we faced when we arrived here was maintaining that stability and building the Iraqi Police and Army force.”
Prior to April, the Iraqi police force in Barwanah was minor, both in size and impact. However, with the help of the local community leaders, specifically the mayor and city council chairman, the force’s size has increased significantly. It currently stands at 150. Their presence, as much as the Marines, has been a driving force behind this new found progress.
“The Iraqi Police in Barwanah are all locals from the area, so they’re able to know who the bad guys are,” said Mitchell. “This makes it a lot easier for us when it comes time to detain the people because the Iraqi Police know exactly who they are and where to find them.”
The population is now able to enjoy its city and spend more time outdoors.
“At night, children will play soccer until the 11 p.m. curfew. I don’t know many American parents who would feel comfortable allowing their eight or nine-year-old child to stay out that late,” said the 21-year-old Mitchell.
There has been a strong connection made between the Marines, sailors, Iraq Security Forces, and people of Barwanah. This connection has shut down the insurgency within the city and uplifted progress.