FALLUJAH, Iraq --
As Marines fight the war in Iraq, the veterans lead the way as they return in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Marines with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, deployed to Iraq recently to join Regimental Combat Team 6 in the ongoing counterinsurgency operations here.
The battalion has served in numerous deployments to Iraq. They have taken up battle positions in a city where the Iraqi police have control, leaving them to play a supporting role.
On his first deployment, 2nd Lt. A.J. DeSantis, 24, a platoon commander with Company I, expressed his surprise at the order the city is in.
“It’s not what you expect,” said DeSantis. “You expect going into Fallujah that it’s going to be a gunfight every day and it’s not. It’s not what you would see on television. The Fallujah of two years ago is not the Fallujah of today.”
Many of the Marines with the “Darkhorse” battalion are veterans of the war, having fought in Fallujah during 2004 and 2005. They arrived in near disbelief of what they saw in a city that was devastated in their most recent visits.
Sgt. Cody C. Turpen, 22, a squad leader with Company I, is on his third deployment to Iraq. Turpen was awarded the Purple Heart for a gunshot wound he suffered during the Battle for Fallujah during November 2004. He has been a witness to the changes.
“It’s not near as aggressive anymore,” said Turpen, a Del City, Okla., native. “They are tired of being scared to walk down the streets and getting shot at by a bunch of terrorists. I think they are turning around, helping us and helping the Iraqi police out.”
In a city where people didn’t feel safe sitting outside of their homes a few months ago, now they sit outside at night drinking tea, smoking and socializing. DeSantis said numerous citizens have told him they are confident in the job the IPs are doing to keep them safe.
“Going out and patrolling the city, there is a surprising amount of people that are friendly to you,” DeSantis said. “In fact, when you get the evil eye there once and a while, it’s very obvious because of the amount of people who are friendly.”
As a surprise to one of the Marines, nearly the entire first month of their tour passed by without violent activity.
“I thought that we were going to be fighting again,” said Sgt. Jake Smith, a 23-year-old Ozark, Ill., native. “I was expecting to get attacked all the time, (improvised explosive devices) all the time, but it’s not happening because the Iraqi police have this place on lockdown. The insurgents fear them and are hiding.”
A large part of the battalion’s training before coming out was learning Arabic phrases.
“There is a lot more emphasis on public relations this tour,” said Lance Cpl. John M. Kreutzer, a 25-year-old team leader and Houston native. “There is a bigger emphasis on communication because we have to interact with the IPs and the community watches.”
DeSantis said his Marines are responding remarkably well to the unexpected changes his Marines are experiencing in the city.
“They realize this isn’t the Iraq of a year ago, and they know this isn’t the Iraq of six months ago,” DeSantis said. “Things are different and it’s a good thing.”