ASRAGIYAH, Iraq -- When Pfc. William Quizhpi left his beloved farm in Shushufindi, Ecuador, as a teenager for a new life in Great Barrington, Mass., he never expected to feel so close to home, so far away, five years later in Iraq.
“I like the people and the land here, because they remind me of being back home,” explained the 21-year-old infantryman with the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
The 2004 Monument Mountain Regional High School graduate referred to the farm land sweep operation his unit and Iraqi Security forces accomplished June 2, named Operation Hard Knock.
“I grew up in these types of fields,” said Quizhpi, who used to work in the grocery industry with his father back in his native country. “I never thought I’d come to these areas in Iraq, because I thought it was all desert. When I came here and saw the farms outside the city, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this place!’”
Although Quizhpi enjoyed the terrain he and his teammates patrolled through during this mission, it was anything but a relaxing nature stroll.
Rather, Quizhpi’s unit accompanied Iraqi soldiers in trudging through the farms of Asragiyah, a rural farming community to the west of Fallujah that neighbors the Euphrates River.
The troops hunted for illegal weapons, insurgents, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as part of their ongoing mission to rid the area of terrorists.
During Hard Knock, Quizhpi, his fellow Marines and Iraqi soldiers walked through miles of farm land, stopping only to visit with the local residents and search their grounds for weapons caches. All the while, the personnel introduced themselves to the citizens and explained to them that these searches were for everyone’s safety.
Additionally, the troops jotted down census information about the citizens, such as who lived in which households and what vehicles they possessed.
“Searching the houses for weapons makes these lands safe, so everyone can walk around without fear,” Quizhpi stated.
Throughout this patrol, ISF and Marine personnel confiscated four AK-47 assault rifles and several magazines of ammunition.
According to 1st Lt. Anthony Mercado, Quizhpi’s company executive officer, the military forces hand the owners receipts after taking their arms. Later, residents may receive their rifles back upon presenting proof of proper registration, such as a statement signed by their sheik, a local tribal leader.
This is done so authorities can track weapons and trace them to their owners, Mercado continued.
Four weapons, nine hours, and dozens of farms later, the patrol ended at the Euphrates riverbank. With the sun still beating down on them, Quizhpi’s Marines boarded seven-ton trucks and returned to their bases to rest and prepare for their next operation.