FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Even though the Iraqi summer weather causes thermometers’ mercury levels to creep up day by day, it’s not the scorching temperatures Lance Cpl. Benjamin Pellum worries about.
Rather, it’s the ever-present possibility of taking heat while patrolling through Fallujah’s streets.
“As the summer is getting hotter, things are also getting hotter in this area with the insurgency,” stated the 23-year-old Chesterfield, Va. native, who currently serves as a squad automatic weapon gunner with Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
Terrorists continue emplacing roadside bombs throughout the city streets and attacking Coalition and Iraqi force personnel here.
To counter this, Pellum and his unit rolled out July 10 as part of Operation Rolling Barrage. While other infantrymen from the battalion blocked off a city sector, Company B’s infantrymen moved alongside assault amphibian vehicles and Iraqi Security Forces to patrol through the neighborhood. Troops searched houses and vehicles for weapons and suspicious activity.
“My role was to provide security, both on the streets and watching over any people we’d escort out while searching through their houses,” stated Pellum, a 2000 Manchester High School graduate. “Even though we’d be going into houses uninvited, we’d be telling people, ‘Hey, there’s no problem here; we’re just coming around and doing this to a lot of other folks to make sure everything is safe.’”
Missions like Rolling Barrage also provide the forces an opportunity to interact with the community.
The infantrymen distributed pamphlets explaining the purpose behind these often-disruptive operations, as well as information on where citizens may call to report insurgent activity.
“I also brought candy along for the kids, so they wouldn’t be scared of us when we come into their houses,” Pellum stated.
However, he added that the populace are generally not afraid and are cooperative as the forces conduct these necessary counter-insurgency operations.
Since terrorists dress and act as Iraqi bystanders to blend into the local community, troops require popular support to separate the innocents from the insurgents.
“The people have already started helping us get rid of criminals,” Pellum said. “Some of them understand that we’re just here to help them out, and that if they tell us who the insurgents are, we’ll take care of it. Some people still don’t understand that, though.”
The troops have made notable progress, however. As 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment personnel reach their 120-day mark in Iraq, Pellum reported the training of ISF personnel as one of the most notable achievements. Since his unit arrived here in mid-March, the American personnel have conducted every patrol, raid and humanitarian assistance mission alongside their Iraqi counterparts, mentoring them all the while. Rolling Barrage was only one such successfully executed joint mission.
“The way the Iraqis handle themselves now is a lot better than when we first got here,” Pellum stated. “You can see a difference in their patrolling (tactics). They’ve helped us keep the crime level down in these areas.”
Though violent incidents continue plaguing Fallujah’s populace and the troops who protect them, Pellum’s attitude toward Iraq’s future remains optimistic. Only by coupling missions like Rolling Barrage with the community’s support will the battle on terrorism be won here, he added.
“It can’t stay the way it is right now forever; eventually, things have to get better. I’d be happy if these people had a government like ours, and hopefully that’ll happen in the long run. I hope, in the future, there will be less crime. That will allow us to leave here as soon as possible.”