CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- The “Betio Bastards,” who just touched down in Iraq, received a warm welcome and guidance from their new leader.
Col. Larry D. Nicholson, commanding officer for Regimental Combat Team 5, addressed the Marines and sailors of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment here July 19.
He traveled from Camp Fallujah to welcome the unit that relieved 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from their seven-month deployment.
“Welcome to Habbaniyah, welcome to Iraq and welcome to the fight!” Nicholson said.
His voice echoed from a loudspeaker out to roughly one thousand Marines sitting in the bleachers of an old gymnasium, now used as the camp’s dining facility.
During his address, Nicholson stressed the importance of building a good rapport with Iraqi soldiers, police and populace. Iraqis will see the Marines with whom they speak with on a daily basis as a reflection of American hopes and values.
“As Marines, we represent America so we must make the best impression possible,” Nicholson said.
That means getting up-close and personal.
“We’re not going to know how to help the Iraqis if we don’t meet face-to-face with them and talk to them,” Nicholson said. “The sergeant major and I stop at almost every fruit stand we see just to talk with the Iraqis.”
It’s also important to get feedback from the Iraqis.
“I ask them all the time, ‘What do you like? What don’t you like? Are we helping you? How can we help you better?’” Nicholson added.
Another way Marines can establish good relations with Iraqi’s is by making smart decisions at the lowest ranks, Nicholson added.
“He reminded us that it’s not just a killing war. It’s a tactical war, at the squad leader level,” said Cpl. Casimero C. Tanseco, a team leader with L Company. “It’s the squad-level fight that determines the outcome of the war.”
This is the second deployment for the 20-year-old from Piscataway, N.J. He said Nicholson’s words made him feel proud to be fighting with the “Fighting Fifth.”
Tanseco is now part of the most decorated Marine regiment in Marine Corps history.
“I’m really looking forward to working under RCT-5 for Col. Nicholson,” he said. “He’s sounds very knowledgeable and I feel safe working for someone like him.”
Sgt. Maj. Melvin Roundtree, RCT-5 sergeant major, also addressed the newly-arrived battalion.
He concluded the meeting by reminding the Marines of tough days ahead, but the lasting feeling of success by doing their duty the right way.
“This is an arduous duty,” Roundtree said. “But I tell you, when it’s all done, it’s the greatest feeling.”