CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- The commander of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Lt. Col. Julian D. Alford, has his hands full as the senior commander in the Al Qa’im region. Almost daily, Alford moves from battle position to battle position, meeting to meeting … managing and controlling his forces and the reconstruction efforts in his area of western Al Anbar province.
Keeping him safe is his personnel security detachment or Praetorian as they’re called. Lexington, N.C., native, Sgt. Phillip J. Michael, is a member of Praetorian.
“We’re tasked to escort (Alford) and provide security for him when he travels,” said the 25-year-old Michael.
According to Michael, the detachment is made up of a plethora of military occupational specialties. Michael is a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialist by trade.
“After NBC was consolidated back at (Camp Lejeune, N.C.), we were just responsible for handling annual training; the gas-chamber and things like that,” he said.
As a result of this downsizing, Michael was selected to lead the machine gun section in the Headquarters & Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, due to skills he learned while on deployment to Afghanistan in 2004. From there, Michael made the transition to the PSD.
Other MOSs working for the PSD include communications, cooks, and infantrymen, among others.
“I get to use skills here that everyone gets taught but most don’t use,” said Michael. “We patrol, set up perimeters … all the aspects of an (infantryman) plus a few things they don’t get to do.”
It is this mix of specialties that proved a challenge for Michael before deploying.
According to Michael, the Marines of the PSD went through rigorous training of crew-served weapon operations, vehicle patrols and other related skills. Due to the variance of MOSs, this proved to be the most challenging portion, being that some had to be taught skills never before learned … and to use those skills quickly and effectively, potentially under fire.
In Iraq, however, the challenges are a bit different.
“One of the hardest things here, because we work with local Iraqis so much, is when to escalate force,” said Michael, father of a 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, and newborn son, Ashton.
Michael was recently accepted in the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Program, which is a program that sends enlisted Marines to a university of their choice and later commissioned as a Marine Corps officer. He will be heading to the program’s preparatory school at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego just weeks after returning home from his deployment.
“As an officer, I’ll be able to make large decisions that will have an ultimate effect on mission accomplishment,” said Michael.
He hopes to become an infantry officer upon his commissioning, stating he wants to be a part of the Marine Corps’ fighting forces.
In terms of his service in Iraq, he stated: “The biggest thing is that we’re a part of history out here. Watching these people moving on from Saddam’s rule and starting up there own government is a huge thrill.”