CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- The Marines of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, who recently arrived on the ground in Iraq, are going through a process faced by any new homeowner. They are newcomers in a foreign neighborhood surrounded by strangers, including some who would rather not see them there.
As the Marines settle into their new homes, they also begin the process of getting to know every one of their neighbors. They accomplish this by going door-to-door, shaking hands and asking questions, much like the Census Bureau does in America. It is an exhaustive, time-consuming process, but one that the Marines readily undertake as part of their daily mission. The rewards are worth the effort.
“A census documents who lives where, how many houses there are, the man of the house and his name. Along with that information, if we find suspicious things in the house that all goes into documentation,” said Cpl. Joshua C. Davis, a 22-year-old Clifton, Tenn., native and squad leader with the battalion’s K Company. “It gives you a world of information on who, what, when, where and why.”
They are not only gaining useful information for themselves. The Marines are laying the foundation for a more detailed and efficient means of gathering, tracking and analyzing census information that will ultimately be utilized by the Iraqi government in the future. This is done in the hopes they will be able to continue maintaining security in the region.
“The mission is transition,” said Lance Cpl. Robert W. Smith, 20, from Cocoa, Fla. “We are trying to give everything back to the Iraqis. Eventually we can turn over all the paperwork to them.”
The Marines patrol the area with enthusiasm, bypassing no house or building, leaving no stone unturned; they knock politely at the door and ask permission to come inside and speak to the man of the house. Squads present a request for census information written in Arabic. Once inside they search the house looking for anything suspicious, and with the aid of an interpreter they ask the owner questions.
“We always ask if the people have any problems with their water or electricity,” added Smith, a rifleman with K Company and 2005 graduate of Hank Williams, Jr., High School. “That way we can get it fixed for them so they have power and running water. We try and find out how many kids they have in the household, if they are going to school and if they feel safe with their kids going to school with us around. We also try to find out how they feel about the Coalition Forces and if they have any problems with us.”
It is during these moments that the Marines get an opportunity to really get a feel for how much their presence here is welcome. According to Smith, who is on his first deployment, the view on the ground is a lot different from what the perception is at home.
“I was expecting a lot worse, like gunfights every day, but it’s not as bad,” he said. “(The perception) back in the States (is) that the Iraqis are mad at us for being here. Some of them are, but most of them aren’t. A lot of the people here think it’s safe for their kids to go to school.”