AL KHARMA, Iraq -- Cpl. Timothy R. Perea geared up for another patrol in this city. Sentiments toward Multinational Forces here are mixed. This is, after all, a suburb of Fallujah. But Perea and his Marines are out to change all that.
The patrol wasn't the average patrol for the Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's Weapons Company. It was part training, part intelligence gathering. They prepared for enemy contact, like any other day, but took along with them soldiers from the Iraqi National Guard.
The patrol sent a strong message that Marines will back the Iraqi Security Forces and won't leave until the security mission is done.
"We have to constantly keep showing a force to remind the people we're not here to scare them," explained Perea, the patrol leader. "Having joint patrols tells the local populace that we're here to protect everybody, not to hurt everybody."
The mission is a result of the Combined Action Program, an idea revived from Vietnam. Marines and Iraqis live, work and even fight together. The concept is that the professionalism rubs off on the fledgling Iraqi force while the Iraqis take a greater role in their own security.
Perea said being accompanied with ING soldiers during presence patrols is vital to gaining trust with their host nation. Still, nothing here in Iraq is automatic. By his own admission, the path to success here is steep.
"We're not sitting too well with Kharma, but that's only because we haven't been here long," Perea explained.
Since Iraqi soldiers joined their patrols, information from villagers flows in more regularly. People open up to the Iraqi soldiers much more than they ever did to Marines.
"Now it seems easier to receive information from the Iraqi people," said Pfc. Jason T. Gomez, a radio operater on the patrol. "I think it's a great idea we bring the ING soldiers on these patrols."
The patrols also offer Marines hands-on experience with the Iraqi soldiers to gauge their growth in infantry skills. They can observe what's working well and where they still need to improve, according to Cpl. John P. Monahan, a squad leader.
"It allows us to figure out what new to teach them and what they need to work on," Monahan said. "Their training kicks in and we're starting to see the saltier guys correcting the younger soldiers during the patrols."
Marines have high hopes for the CAP mission. They take their role seriously. They understand that the time they spend on the ground with the Iraqi soldiers is an investment in the country's future security.
"We do a lot of supervising because what we want them to eventually be able to do their own thing," Perea said. "This way we can roll out some day and they alone can be able to keep their families safe and take their towns back."