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Marines take new tact on patrols

11 May 2004 | Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

Marines train for combat patrols, reconnaissance patrols and mechanized patrols.  But Marines from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines tried something different in Iraq. 

They conducted a "gift patrol."

Marines from the battalion's Weapons Company participated in a joint patrol with a group of local Iraqi policemen May 11, handing out gifts purchased from local merchants to help instill faith in the Coalition Forces.

The gift-patrol covered nearly a half dozen struggling communities throughout the region and was supplied with products purchased from local storeowners in need of a little help.

"We tried a different approach," said 1st Lt. Will Haag, Weapons Company's executive officer, from Seattle.

The company's everyday routine consists of two to three night and day patrols in search of improvised explosive devices and rooting out terrorists.  The gift patrol allowed for a new approach to accomplishing the same task.

"This was a change in pace," said Cpl. Yancy Green, from Baton Rouge, La.  "A lot of these people have grown to not like us.  Once we started giving them gifts though, they changed a bit.  I think that's why we're out here.  The process is slow, but we are changing their hearts and minds."

The goal, according to Haag, was to help sway some opinions of the locals, who may or may not have been turned against Coalition Forces.

The patrol was the first of its kind in the battalion, according to Haag.

"This was the first time this group has done this and I'm sure the battalion as a whole," Green said.  "We interact with people a lot here, but not often in a positive way such as this.

"We went in and bought goods from store owners who were anything but nice," Haag explained.  "If they gave us a thumbs down or something we'd stop and buy from them.  We want to give back to the community."

The Marines handed out 15 large black garbage bags full of items ranging from plastic storage containers to hygiene supplies.  The items were passed out the same way they were purchased.  If Marines felt unwelcome, they stopped to talk to the Iraqis, handing out the gifts.

"It's all right helping out," said Lance Cpl. Nicholas Brown, a machine gunner for the company from Dallas.  "This is what we're here to do.  The more we help them and they begin to take care of themselves, the faster we're out of here."

"This was an attempt to convince the people that we are here for their support," Haag added.  "We want them to know Iraqi solutions can solve Iraqi problems."

The money used to purchase the items was funded by the battalion, which uses funds to improve life for local Iraqis. 

"I don't know how often this will happen," Haag said.  "Our number one priority is security, but we will likely be out here more often distributing goods and interacting with the locals in a more positive manner."