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Lejeune Marines unaffected by sovereign government

1 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

As documents affecting the history of Iraq were signed to his north, Lance Cpl. Timothy C. Stoll, a 20-year-old rifleman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment was dealing with his sweat soaking him underneath his flak jacket on a security shift. 

Stoll was more concerned with a rocket-propelled grenade being launched at his guard tower than Iraq's sovereignty; events he knew would end up in his children's history books.

"I think there's always going to be a group of people in Iraq who threaten it, even years from now," said Stoll, from Nashville, Tenn. "For me, its no big deal, just another day."

Other Marines around the camp felt the same way.  Patrols still went out at their regular times and they still had to be just as wary as they normally are.  There were no Times Square style celebrations here.  It was business as usual for the Iraqis here, which means that it's business as usual for the anti-Iraqi forces too.

"We can never let our guard down at all, no matter how calm it seems.  Just because there's an official government here doesn't mean we let up on our enemies," said Lance Cpl. Gabriel J. Otoole, a 24-year-old Company F rifleman from Portland, Maine. "We still treat all Iraqis with basic human dignity.  For the most part they still see us as an occupational force and they want to handle things themselves."

On patrol, Otoole and his fellow Marines still receive friendly smiles, waves and gestures of good faith.

"We're still treated well when we're out in the towns.  That's because we've spent a lot of time building relationships with the Iraqis, not because of the transfer of power in Baghdad," Otoole said. "People invite us inside their homes to drink chai tea because we help keep their towns safe, not because they're told to."

Many Marines agree the problem isn't even with Iraqis, but with people from other countries dedicated to seeing the new Iraqi government fail.

There are always going to be a few bad apples, Otoole said.  He added that most of the Iraqis he meets are dedicated to seeing Iraq succeed.

From the danger of the mounted patrols to the relative safety of the operations center, Marines aren't feeling a big ripple from events in Baghdad.

"We're not seeing any great spike in insurgent activity.  Patrols are still punching out, we're still doing our jobs here," said Cpl. Caleb D. Johnson, a 20-year-old operations clerk from Greenville, S.C.  "Across our zone, we're not noticing a visual change in attitudes or perceptions.  It's just business as we've been doing it all along."

Marines still keep their eyes and ears open, even as plans are implemented to give the Iraqi National Guard a more active role.  Dangers didn't go away with the handover.

"We have a policy to treat everyone we meet as a friend, but to be ready to kill him in seconds if we need to," Otoole said.