SAHL SINJAR, Iraq --
True to the words of Sophocles, in that ‘there is no success without hardship,’ few could argue, Marines and sailors of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, experienced both during their deployment to Iraq.
During the “Highlander’s” seventh-month tour in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the majority of their time was spent near the Sinjar Mountains in Iraq’s Ninewa Province operating from a remote airfield established manned and maintained by Marines.
“Interdicting smuggling and infiltration of foreign fighters moving into Mosul was a great success,” said Lt. Col. Scott D. Leonard, commanding officer of 1st LAR Battalion. “While doing this we were able to get back to our roots as a light armored reconnaissance battalion, by operating independently; in a very austere environment; with a very small support footprint.”
And austere it was, explained Leonard, with platoons staying up to 80 days ‘outside the wire,’ conducting reconnaissance and screening operations in wind, rain and snow.
“After staying out for weeks, sleeping on the ground and living out of vehicles, providing a place for Marines to return for rest and a hot meal presented some challenges,” said Leonard. “I think they learned the value of what is truly important; what things you really need. They had very little and I believe it strengthened the platoons and gave them confidence by operating in such hardship.”
Though operational successes of recent months were apparent, the changes Iraq has made over the years could be seen by many of the Marines with the battalion during previous deployments, explained Maj. Jon A. Custis, the battalion executive officer.
“We have been here as a supporting effort to the Iraqis, and they have been very proactive in security for this region. This is a positive step,” said Custis. “In some degree I think the average man on the street still wants Americans to stay, but the Iraqi Security Forces have really shown themselves to be effective and reliable.”
As the Marine Corps’ begins to shift to focus its Afghanistan and talks of troop draw downs continue, Leonard believes the efforts of Coalition forces have allowed Iraqis to reach a point of independence in securing peace for their nation.
“This is certainly the capstone of my deployments to Iraq,” said Leonard. “This deployment has shown me that the Iraqi Security Forces are true warriors and a competent military force and the elections were a great example of that.”
During Iraq’s provincial elections in January, 1st LAR Bn. provided over-watch security, with ISF patrolling the polling sites. The arrangement yielded no violent incidents, and in a region with much cultural and ethnic disparity.
“These Marines and sailors covered themselves in glory this deployment,” said Leonard. “They have earned my eternal respect and the future of the United States and of Iraq will be in good hands by the deeds of these men.”
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.