CAMP KOREAN VILLAGE, Iraq -- In open defiance toward radical Islamist insurgents, tens of thousands of Iraqi citizens came out to the polls across the Sunni-dominated Al Anbar province in Iraq, Dec. 15.
Iraqi troops provided security at polling sites within the towns of Rutbah and Akashat, located in the desert lands of far western Iraq, while U.S. Marines from Task Force Highlander were standing by in case of any violent interference with the democratic process.
“The Iraqi poll workers have been helpful,” said Staff Sgt. Timothy O. Smart, 38, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and an artillery section chief with Task Force Highlander, commenting on the upbeat mood in Rutbah while providing guard. “We’ve got a lot to show for today.”
Interference from insurgents never materialized as no violence was reported at the two sites throughout the day.
Strong voter turnout was reported for the two towns. In Rutbah, over 250 locals voted during the first hour the polls where opened, compared to only 5 voters in the first hour of the Oct. 15 Constitutional Referendum. Thousands of people were seen lining up toward the makeshift polling station there throughout the morning.
In the small mining town of Akashat, over 1,400 people cast ballots before noon.
“The number of female voters coming out to the polls has been impressive,” said Sgt. Elizabeth D. Zakar, 26, of Orange Park, Fla., temporarily assigned to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Task Force Highlander, as she took a break from searching females coming to the polls.
Many Marines who participated in securing the historic event were pleased to see the dramatic turnout.
“I view [the election] in the same light as the liberation of my grandparents 60 years ago,” said 1st Lt. Paul A. Rozylowicz, 25, of Wheaton, Ill., and platoon commander for 3rd Platoon, Company A, 1st LAR, whose grandparents where slave laborers in Germany at the end of World War II. “This is the tip of the spear for defending democracy and freedom.”
Months of hard work conducting security operations in the area by Task Force Highlander had paid off.
“I joined the Marine Corps to make a difference,” said Rozylowicz. “Being here in Rutbah, I’m seeing that we are making a difference.”