THAR THAR REGION, Iraq -- It is difficult to imagine any person trading a promising future pursuing a business degree in college in favor of strapping on pounds of cumbersome body armor and weaponry to trudge through Iraq’s scorching wastelands.
It wasn’t for Lance Cpl. Michael Harres. In fact, that’s exactly what the high school honor graduate set off to do the summer after his senior year.
“I joined the Marines to make a difference, to be able to say I did something,” stated the 19-year-old Brooksville, Fla. native. “I had the opportunity to go to college, but I wanted to feel like I’d earned that right first. I wanted to be able to say that I was actually out there, in the fight, on the front lines.”
Currently, Harres is earning that right by serving as an infantryman in Iraq’s Al Anbar province alongside fellow Marines from his unit, Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
The 2004 Central High School graduate and his teammates have been conducting counter-insurgency operations in and around the once-embattled city of Fallujah since mid-March. The unit’s latest effort to deter terrorist activity in the area was Operation Khanjar, the Arabic word for ‘dagger’.
During the five-day mission, Harres, Iraqi soldiers, and hundreds of Marines, sailors and soldiers swept through more than 100 square kilometers of desert fields and shorelines bordering Thar Thar Lake, a body of water north of Fallujah.
The troops scoured these seldom-patrolled lands, looking for buried weapons and explosive materials amid the numerous dirt mounds and bombed-out buildings.
“Basically, we’re checking this entire sector, looking for weapons caches along with the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces),” Harres explained. “We’re working with and supporting the ISF, showing them the proper way to do these searches.”
Troops participating in Khanjar detained several suspected insurgent supporters and uncovered hundreds of explosive rounds that could have been used to make improvised explosive devices, currently one of the deadly weapons insurgents in Iraq possess.
Khanjar was only one operation Harres and his team have conducted during their three and a half months in Iraq.
In March, Harres’ unit provided security for Operation Greenback, during which Iraqi officials handed out payments compensating Fallujah’s citizens for the destruction done to their houses and buildings during last year’s conflict,
All the while, Company B Marines have continued patrolling the city streets alongside the Iraqi soldiers, helping train them on proper urban patrol tactics while maintaining a strong presence in Fallujah.
“In the past we’ve been checking houses and clearing sectors of the city looking for weapons and illegal (anti Coalition and Iraqi government) paraphernalia,” Harres explained.
Insurgents continue smuggling these materials into Coalition Forces’ areas of operation, so Harres and his Marines maintain constant vigilance to deter them.
Whether manning observation posts in his company’s operational headquarters in Fallujah, or patrolling through the streets and fields outside the city, Harres said he feels he is playing a role in putting an end to terrorism in Iraq.
Additionally, he claims moral character development and lessons learned about himself as one of his biggest accomplishments during his first deployment.
“Being here, you learn about friendships, brotherhood, and watching each other’s backs,” Harres added. “You live with about eight other guys that you also work with every single day for seven months. Everyday, we’re faced with situations where the guy next to you watches your back, and you do the same for him. By doing that, you form a bond and make friends that last a lifetime.”
Harres added that these interpersonal ties are invaluable while serving in this dust-filled, scorching environment, where contact with the outside world is limited to letter mail and an occasional phone call home.
“Being here teaches you to appreciate everything you have back in the States, like being able to be clean for more than a couple of hours and eat some good food,” he added with a chuckle. “I haven’t been able to see my family much since I’ve been in the Marine Corps, either.”
All challenges aside, Harres remains appreciative of the bonds and experiences he and his fellow Marines experience everyday and takes these shared hardships in stride.
“I know this whole experience will be worth it; it’s just while you’re out here that things are rough sometimes. It’s not something I like to do right now, but when I look back at it, I’ll realize it was all worth it.”