FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Iraqi men and children gathered alongside the dusty roads of southern Fallujah to catch a glimpse of Marines convoying through their little piece of the city. Although witnessing U.S. military convoys is becoming the norm for Fallujah residents, the Marines are not simply rolling through this time.
Marines with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, descended on the southeastern Fallujah district of Shuhada July 18 to begin the next phase of Operation Alljah.
“Operation Alljah is something this city was in dire need of,” said Cpl. James T. Robinson, a radio operator with RCT-6. “In simple terms, it’s an operation that will help the Iraqi Police maintain law and order within the city. Eventually we will be able to kick our feet onto the desk and let this city run itself.”
During each phase of the operation, each targeting a different sector of the city, a “swarm” of Marine assets, including engineer and combat vehicles, come in the dark of night. Before the sun crests the horizon, a section of the district is partitioned off using concrete barriers for use as an Iraqi Police precinct. From this precinct, the IPs can enforce law and order on a hyper-local level. In addition, it is an opportunity for the Marines to get out into the neighborhoods and witness the positive impact they are making.
“These swarms are not only beneficial to the locals in the neighborhoods we secure, but to the Marines involved as well,” Robinson said. “The Marines who come out here have the opportunity to see firsthand the positive contribution they are making to the Iraqis’ quality of life, whether its kids playing soccer in the street or men gathered at a local café without fear of bombs or stray bullets.”
Combat engineers with 4th Platoon, C Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, RCT-6, kicked off the operation by setting up winding serpentine barriers designed to slow down vehicular traffic and razor-sharp concertina wire around the area. They also provided Marines in G Company with sandbags that were placed in soft spots in the building, such as windows and doorways.
“My platoon’s mission was to set this place up,” said 1st Lt. Adam C. Jobes, 1st Platoon commander with G Company, 2/6. “We came in with a plan. My guys wanted this. Even if the task might’ve sucked, such as hauling sandbags, my Marines prided themselves in whatever task was given to them. We provided security for everyone here as well as regulating the traffic flow of Iraqis coming into the precinct.”
Upon the completion of the fortification, Iraqi men interested in becoming recruits in the Neighborhood Watch program waited outside the barriers away from the precinct for security reasons. After being thoroughly searched, the men were escorted to the precinct.
“We brought them in smaller groups so we didn’t have hundreds of Iraqi civilians running around,” said Northport, N.Y., native Cpl. Jason N. Prochilo, with the RCT-6 Fallujah police transition team.
After the men were escorted through the guarded entrance of the building, Capt. Mark C. Cameron, assistant operations officer for 2/6, gave the potential recruits a detailed brief about what the Neighborhood Watch program requires of them.
“You’re dedication isn’t asked for – it’s required,” Cameron said to the residents, as they rested under the canopy of camouflage netting. He continued to explain, with the assistance of an interpreter, about the monetary pay, responsibilities and the reason for the neighborhood watch, which is for them to assume responsibility for the security of their own community. “The barriers surrounding your neighborhood are to keep the bad people out and the good people in.”
The recruits then went through a simple process to determine their eligibility to join. They were given a written test to establish their reading and writing ability, in addition to a medical screening.
Once cleared, recruits are processed through the Biometrics Automated Toolset system, a documenting system that contains background information on the residents of the city, including criminal records.
“The BATS system is a computer system that identifies people and makes a record of said individual,” said South Brunswick, N.J., native, Cpl. Jonathan H. Rudolph, the BATS system noncommissioned officer with 2/6. “The system includes a laptop with the BATS software, a fingerprint scanner, an iris scanner, a camera and an ID card printer. Once they are in the system, Marines can scan (the subject’s) iris or get their fingerprints to see when the person’s birthday is, their job, place of residence and also shows previous documentation if they have been involved or have known of anyone involved in terrorist activities.”
The men found without criminal backgrounds were given a blue knit shirt and other credentials indicating their involvement in the program.
“It was easy,” said one Fallujah resident who is now in Neighborhood Watch program. “There were a lot of us, and I am glad I was able to become part of the watch.”
Only 200 neighborhood watchers are recruited during each swarm. Once they don their blue shirts, they are tasked with cleaning up their city in more ways than one, and often literally.
“Just the other day while I was on a convoy I saw them picking up trash along (one of the busier streets in the city),” Prochilo said.
Once the goal of 200 recruits was reached, all local residents were allowed to come into the precinct to receive new or updated ID cards. Numerous Marines operating the BATS system completed over 1,200 ID cards in a few dusk-till-dawn workdays.
Once the call went out for the Marines to pack up shop, the most of the supporting establishment Marines headed back to their home base at Camp Baharia. However, infantry Marines within the battalion, whose area of operations encompasses the precinct, will remain to continue the mission of supporting the Iraqi Police.
“Though there is no way of knowing for sure, but if the improvement these swarms display is any indication of the progress in the rest of Iraq,” reflected Robinson, “then I am optimistic about the future of this country.”