FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Marines alongside Iraqi police and soldiers is a sight few would have pictured two years ago.
At Entry Control Point 5, Marines from Weapons Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment work daily with Iraqi policemen and soldiers from the Iraqi Army to thwart terrorism from the city of Fallujah.
“The ECP is a deterrent,” said 24-year-old Sgt. Jeremy Mueller, assigned to Weapons Platoon. “We get a lot of bad people that try to come through and this is a good way to keep anti-coalition forces out of the city.”
The job at the ECP is to monitor who and what comes in and out of the city, checking cars and identification badges to make sure no munitions or terrorists are smuggled in or out. So far, their efforts have netted more than a dozen known insurgents.
“We’ve caught 15 really bad dudes,” said Staff Sgt. Ronald Cullen, the platoon sergeant. He said every detainee is a criminal wanted for crimes against U.S and Iraqi forces, many related to improvised explosive devices.
“One was a suspected insurgent cell leader, along with terrorist financers, IED makers and IED emplacers,” said the 30-year-old from Montrose, Mich.
Weapons Platoon brings experience to the job, having handled entry control point work following Operation Al Fajr. They use their experience to train their counterparts from the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army to eventually take over the responsibility.
In addition to getting to know the men who will replace them, Marines see the faces of the citizens they are working to protect.
“It’s a good populous interaction,” said 27-year-old infantryman Cpl. Joshua B. Herrera, of San Jose, Calif. “It helps me understand how they react to certain situations, and to us.”
Although many of the Marines greet the Iraqis passing through with smiles and hellos, they’re all business when it comes to security procedures.
“We’re very rigorous about making sure they have IDs and all the right paperwork,” said Cpl. James Lund, assigned to Weapons Platoon. “It’s so they understand we’re here to help them, but if they’re going to have a safe country, they’re going to follow the rules.”
Lund said he trusts the Iraqi soldiers he works with as though they were his own Marines.
“These guys are great,” said the 21-year-old machine gunner from St. Paul, Minn. “We’re definitely building a relationship. They’ve got great work ethic and I have confidence that they have our back. We’ve got theirs as well.”
“IP’s are fun to work with,” said Pfc. Zach Pederson, assigned to Weapons Platoon. “They work hard but like to goof off every now and then.”
The 20-year-old from Sioux Falls, S.D. said the Marines and Iraqis entertain each other by learning each other’s language and cultures. “They teach us most of our Arabic and we teach them some English.”
The job may not always be as exciting as taking the fight to the enemy, but the Marines understand the importance of keeping the enemy out of the city. Pfc. Ko Vang said he was trained for more traditional infantry role, but said he enjoys ensuring the city has strong ECPs.
“I don’t mind this,” said Vang, a 20-year-old infantryman from White Bear Lake, Minn. “We’re still helping out by searching every vehicle that comes through the city.”
They work so closely together, that in an emergency, a wounded Iraqi is equally important as a wounded Marine. The platoon’s line corpsman, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Bennett demonstrated this when an Iraqi soldier was shot in a recent drive-by shooting incident.
“We had a firefight a few days ago,” said the 21-year-old from Carrollton, Texas. “A car drove up and fired a burst on one of the IA’s. There were rounds flying over our heads as we ran up there to treat him.”
“The Marines ran up there to help, but it was too late,” Lund said. That sort of dedication and camaraderie is shared among U.S. and Iraqi forces alike.
“We were ready to fight alongside them,” he added.
The soldier was evacuated to Camp Fallujah’s surgical hospital. The Marines say the future of Iraq’s security is in good hands based on what they’ve seen at the ECP.
“I could patrol by myself with the Iraqi soldiers knowing I’ll be safe,” said Sgt. Milton Donatus, the Sergeant of the Guard for ECP 5. “We’ve already got that trust between us and we’ll do just about anything to make sure they’re safe.”
He also had high praises for their discipline, saying they respect the rank structure and always arrive to work on time.
“If you tell them to do something differently, they’ll be on top of it,” said the 28-year-old from the Island Republic of Palau. “I’ve never heard them complain.”