AR RAMADI, Iraq -- When Grant R. Birtcher reflects on his life’s accomplishments, he can take pride in knowing that he was part of something special during his service in the Marine Corps.
Twenty-year-old Cpl. Birtcher from Window Rock, Ariz., is one of just a select few Marines of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment who work with the Iraqi Security Forces.
According to military officials, a force of ISF capable of providing security in Iraq is the ticket home for Marines and coalition forces.
Birtcher and other Marines with Company B’s Combined Action Platoon are directly responsible for training several members of this force.
“I’m a handler,” Birtcher, a rifleman with the platoon, said referring to the billet he holds. “I supervise the ISF.”
Birtcher’s comrades in the platoon provide training for new members of the ISF in how to conduct security and stabilization operations at their base, Camp Ali, in the Al Anbar capital.
After his fellow Marines run the ISF through 12 days of intense training at the camp, Birtcher takes them out into the city and further hones their SASO skills by giving them “on the job training,” he said. “I put them to work out here doing the real thing.”
Birtcher and his Iraqi counterparts accompany 1st Battalion, 5th Marines’ line companies and assist them on operations, which include foot patrols, house searches and vehicle check points. Their schedules are always full.
“We go out everyday,” he said, “sometimes twice. I correct them when they mess up, which helps make them better.”
Birtcher and 12 ISF recently conducted a mission with Marines from Company A. The Marines and ISF traveled about the city in a convoy of 7-ton trucks and humvees and performed random VCPs at different locations. The ISF executed the majority of the vehicle and personnel searches, and Birtcher was pleased with how they performed.
“They aggressively search and aren’t afraid to work hard,” he said, adding their other strong points are the fact that they’re Iraqi and can speak the native language.
“They speak Arabic, which helps break the language barrier and they know how to deal with their own people,” he said.
Birtcher said the ISF possess an uncanny ability to locate threats.
“We’ve been out searching houses before and they’ve found weapons in places where I and other Marines wouldn’t think to look,” he said. “They’re also able to explain to the people what we’re doing during missions. They get the point across and often make things run smoother.”
Birtcher has filled his current role as warrior/mentor for more than three months now, and he’s proud of what he’s doing.
“I do feel a little excluded from the rest of the company, but I know I’m part of an important mission,” he said. “The faster the ISF are trained and able to assume the role of securing Iraq, the sooner I and the other Marines can leave.”
Birtcher, who is half Navajo American Indian, is in Iraq for a second time with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom and is accomplishing a childhood goal.
He graduated from Window Rock High School early his senior year in 2002 so he could join the Corps and fight in the war on terrorism.
“I always wanted to be a Marine from an early age,” said Birtcher, whose parents are Esther and Norman Birtcher. “I thought it would be a good chance for me to see the world and make something of myself.”
Birtcher immediately sought after the local Marine recruiter, who was in Gallup, N.M., about 40 miles from his hometown.
“I walked into his office and said, ‘I want to be a Marine; I want to be in the infantry,’” he recalled.
Two weeks later he was attending Marine Corps Recruit Training in San Diego.
Birtcher said his time in the Corps “has been good. I learned leadership skills and how to deal with people from all different backgrounds, which will help me in the future.”
Birtcher is currently undecided about whether to reenlist in the Marines or leave when his contract expires in 2007 to pursue a college education.
“I eventually want to got to college and study business,” he said. “Getting out of Iraq and staying on American soil where it’s safe sounds nice.”