HADITHA, Iraq -- Iraqi Security Forces and Marines with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment provided security for the constitutional referendum as citizens cast their vote here Oct. 15.
Lance Cpl. Steven R. Ybarra of Pomona, Calif. aided the Iraqi soldiers as they searched people who arrived at the polling site to cast their vote on a new Iraqi constitution.
“Over 300 people came out to vote at our site,” said Ybarra, a rifleman with the battalion’s Company L. “It was good because they got a chance to give their opinion on something that affects them.”
The 21-year-old Ybarra and other Marines as well as ISF soldiers stood outside the polling site making sure everyone was searched and the area was safe before people proceeded inside. The Marines were responsible for providing outer security while the ISF ran security inside.
“No Marines were allowed inside the inner cordon for the compound,” commented Capt. Shannon J. Neller, commanding officer of Company L. “They wanted to make sure the elections were handled by the Iraqi people and not us.”
The Marines and Ybarra helped the ISF soldiers set up the security checkpoints before opening the polls. They worked alongside the soldiers to help them properly secure the voting area and keep one of the most important days in Iraq’s recent history free from insurgent activity.
“They know their job, but they are nervous at times,” added Ybarra. “We show them how to do things and if they do it wrong, we give them pointers to do it better next time.”
Ybarra, a 2003 graduate of Diamond Ranch High School, escorted the citizens to an “X” marked on the ground with yellow spray paint. The “X” was where the people stood and were checked for weapons.
Working alongside the Iraqi soldiers is a great experience for Ybarra and other Marines in the battalion. They have jointly operated with the ISF soldiers in almost every mission since arriving in September.
“We have fun joking around with them and learning each other’s language,” said the two-time Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. “This time while we were out providing security, they brought us flat bread so we all had something to eat.”
According to Ybarra, the Marines and ISF soldiers complimented each other when it came to providing security for the people that day. While the Marines possessed a lot of knowledge on how to set up proper security, the ISF soldiers had an advantage of knowing if the people coming into vote were from the area, or from areas like Syria, Jordan or other countries.
“I hope eventually they will be able run events like this one without us even being there,” Ybarra added. “If we keep on teaching them how to run things correctly, the more capable they will be and the fewer Marines we will need to have over here.”