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Marines build relationships in local Iraqi community

16 Mar 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

It was the sort of patrol Marines dream about –   lots of kids and no problems.  It’s also one of the most important things Marines do here.  They talked directly to Iraqi citizens hearing their concerns during a brief stop along their patrol route.

Marines from Company A, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, serving with Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted security patrols March 16, near Gharmah, a village outside Fallujah.

“Basically we just went out to engage the public in the area,” said Sgt. Neal L. Renwick, a 27-year-old squad leader from Walla Walla, Wash. “We see how the people respond to us and if there is anything we can do to help them.”

Marines started out from small firm base, venturing out into a local village.  Adults and children alike walked out to talk with the Marines upon their arrival.

“We try to meet with the sheiks in the community,” Renwick said. “They are like the community leaders and are usually aware of any needs or thing out of the ordinary that’s going on.”

Some of the Marines took time to play with the local children once proper security was established.  Others spoke with village leaders.

“Normally I try to talk to the kids more than the adults in the community,” said Cpl. Travis R. Caskey, a 27-year-old assaultman from Fort Mill, S.C. “I have a soft spot in my heart …especially kids.”

The children in the community were eager to learn and explore the new faces they found near their homes. They came up to the Marines to “trade words,” Caskey said.

“Through hand gestures and objects lying around, the kids will teach you an Arabic word and we do the same for them in English,” he explained.

The interaction of the Marines with the local community solidified the mission that they are there to help, Renwick explained. They didn’t allow the attacks from insurgents to cloud their view of common Iraqis.  They knew they wanted peace and security in their villages, just as Marines and Iraqi soldiers.

“There is a small group that make them have a bad image,” said Pfc. Jonathan D. Anderson, a 19-year-old machine gunner from Paris, Ark. “As a whole, they are pretty good people.”

The Marines gained confidence in their mission here by the faces they saw.

“The communities have told us they like having us here,” Renwick said.

The Marines took time while on the patrol to pass out gifts to children. The children were eager to get a hold of the dozens of presents from the Marines.

“We passed out coloring books, crayons, pencils and notebooks to the school-age kids,” said Renwick. “We also passed out a few soccer balls.”

Rapport between the community and the Marines was growing.  Each time Marines took the moments to speak with village elders and joke with kids, they knew it built trust with the locals.

“It makes me feel like we are making a real difference,” Anderson said. “The smiles and the laughter tell the whole story.”