CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- They walked out of the black, wrought iron front gate here one by one. Their rifles slung under their arms and a look of anticipation as they were about to embark on one of their last patrols during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Corporal William Martinez, a 21-year-old Peakskill, N.Y. native led the team of Marines and corpsmen through the villages and farms surrounding the camp. In an otherwise routine patrol, the Marines made this one an opportunity to search some suspicious locations previously noted on past patrols.
After they left the gate, the Marines quickly banked a right into a farmer’s field, passing cows and some children playing. Usually a reassuring sight, but no indicator that danger couldn’t lurk behind any corner of the notoriously dangerous area.
“For the most part, we offer each other’s thoughts and opinions and we go off of vibes when we’re on patrol,” said Martinez. “The training for this wasn’t easy but when we got out here, it all just fell into place.”
The 2002 Peakskill High School graduate is a legal administration clerk by trade and many of his squad members are from the 2nd Marine Division Band. They have been the camp’s ready-react force during their six-month deployment here.
“I was primarily a fire team leader, but when we lost a Marine to a knee injury, I stepped up in his place,” said Martinez. “I was the next in line and I felt grateful to get the position. I worked hard as an NCO (non-commissioned officer) for the past two and a half years and I’ve learned a lot about being a Marine in that time too.”
A half year later, they are ready to reform the band and begin playing for official military ceremonies. Martinez, on the other hand, is going back to the legal administration section of his unit at 5th Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment. Their experience here was the chance of a lifetime, though, according to Martinez.
“It has its ups and its downs, but for the most part, we’re truly a band of brothers,” he said. “When we’re not training, we’re together having fun.
“In our down time we find time for Wiffle Ball, dodge ball and the gym. But when it’s time to get down to business, we don’t play games.”
The team trains daily, getting up early in the mornings to make chow runs for breakfast, trekking through the sand in the dead heat of the day and getting together in their down time for rehearsals or briefings.
The way their squad maneuvers is a product of the training they received before they came out here. But it’s also much of what they learned by practical application and training every day.
Before they deployed, the squad underwent an intensive infantry training program that focused on close quarters combat marksmanship and stability and security operations training – all of which was directly related to operations here and in Afghanistan. But most of their skills were developed by patrolling the streets here.
“The guys are really enthusiastic about the job,” said Martinez. “We could be playing football one minute, get the call, and be ready in three minutes tops for a situation.”
Now, the men are ready to redeploy back home and get back to their normal way of life. But just because it’s all over for them here, doesn’t mean they’re going to sit on their laurels.
“I don’t think I’d be the squad leader I am without them,” said Martinez. “I’m going back to my artillery unit with a lot of leadership gained from this experience. But these guys will always be my Marines. I’ve already told them that.”