FALLUJAH, Iraq -- During the past six months, Lance Cpl. Chris Graves’ world has revolved around patrolling the city streets and carrying out late night raids here. Today, however, the Iraqi air is filled with an almost tangible feeling of excitement for him.
More than 180 days after arriving here, he and his teammates from Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment are gearing up to leave their makeshift base and head home. As they do, Graves and fellow Marines from 4th Platoon look back at their accomplishments with pride.
“I remember seeing the ruined city streets and collapsed buildings when I got here,” stated the 20-year-old infantryman from Wakeman, Ohio. “As the months have gone by, we’ve seen people rebuilding their homes and businesses, bringing in new life to this area.”
Graves, a 2003 Western Reserve High School graduate, said that by constant patrolling alongside Iraqi Security Forces, the Marines have afforded Northern Fallujah’s people a secure environment in which to rebuild a community still healing from the scars of last year’s conflict. However, he added that Company C’s work here is not done.
On Sept. 15, ISF soldiers and Company C Marines conducted Operation Hard Knock, a house-to-house search mission within a city sector previously wired off by other battalion personnel. This is the tenth operation of its kind military forces here have conducted.
During Hard Knock, the joint personnel detained three suspected insurgent supporters and confiscated one hand grenade. Possessing explosives in Fallujah is currently illegal for security reasons.
The ISF forces worked in conjunction with the Marines, but also searched a sector of their own to the south. Graves said that much like today’s mission, Iraqi troops have been operating much more independently of U.S. forces for several months now.
“Now that our time in country is coming to an end, I can definitely say I’ve seen stronger ISF presence than when we first got here,” he continued. “At first, there would only be a few Iraqi soldiers patrolling with one of our squads. Now, they do their own patrols, or at most, we’ll have a team of three or four Marines walking with them.”
First Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel have placed great emphasis on helping train the local forces to this present state of proficiency, offering them urban warfare skills, medical and convoy operations training, as well as constant “on the job” training. Though this is an ongoing task, Graves said he sees the ISF nearing the day when they will take over the nation’s security affairs.
“They’ve learned a lot during their time with us,” he stated. “The town seems to like them even more than us now.”
Notable also among the progress Graves sees is the increasing number of people now populating the formerly desolate city. In May, Company C vacated their old base of operations in an apartment complex in Northwestern Fallujah, enabling Iraqi citizens to move back into the housing they had left during last year’s conflict.
Graves and the ISF will continue working hand-in-hand while he and his fellow Marines eagerly wait to head home.
“It’s strange, but on patrol, my level of enthusiasm and awareness has remained pretty much the same as when I first got here. Now is not the time to get complacent, because we all want to make it home safely,” Graves stated. “I’ll leave here knowing that we helped keep Fallujah safe and did things the best we could. Not a lot of people can say they got this same chance.”