HADITHAH, Iraq -- While patrolling through the city of Hit, Marines with 1st Platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment decided to rest in a nearby house to escape the sweltering heat.
After asking permission to enter the house, the residents were nervous and unsure of their visitors’ intentions. The smallest member of the household, though, approached the Marines and began to question and eventually played with them.
The Marines, impressed by the child’s courage answered his questions and responded playfully with him. After awhile, the 4-year-old child named Afooie left and later returned with his other playmates to introduce them to his new friends.
“It was a relief from our day-to-day actions just to play with them,” said 23-year-old Lance Cpl. John W. Anderson, an assistant team leader with 3rd squad. “It reminded us what we were over here for.”
An hour later, the Marines were once again back on their patrol, though the child and his parents asked them to stay awhile longer.
“They seemed sad that we had to leave, but we had a job to do,” the Delmont, Penn., native said.
A few days later, his squad was in the same area so they decided to visit their friends again.
Upon approaching the house, they were instantly recognized by Afooie, who greeted them and then ran off to retrieve his other friends.
“Most of the Marines have younger family members back home and when they interact with these children it’s like they’re back home,” the 2001 Franklin Regional High School graduate said. “Not only that, but it also gets the citizens used to having military personnel in the area.”
Since then, they have seen a positive change in the adults’ attitudes in the area. Most admit they were scared to walk the streets because of the insurgents and now feel safer because the Multi-National Forces are in the area.
Some even provide the Marines information about unusual activity and invite them to stay in their homes when they are on patrol.
“People are upset that the insurgents are killing civilians in their attempt to hurt us,” said Painesville, Ohio, native, Sgt. Peter J. Rivera, a squad leader with 3rd Platoon. “People understand that we are here to help and it makes these guys feel good that they are making a difference.”
The squad, along with the Iraqi Security Force, visits Afooie and his friends when they are patrolling in the area. When on these patrols, they often carry toys, hygiene items and candy for their young friends.
“By doing little things like this, they are helping the country by befriending the younger generation who in years to come will view the military as friends,” said Rivera, a 33-year-old father of four children and 1990 Harvey High School graduate. “When they get older they will help us help their country.”