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Camp closing marks progression in Marines’ mission

26 May 2006 | 1st Lt. Nathan Braden 1st Marine Division

Marines of D Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion finished what they started; they closed the camp here at the end of May, after opening it nearly a year ago.

They named the camp in honor of Lance Cpl. Jonathan L. Smith, when they opened it in July 2005, and nearly a year later, they took down the sign that honored their Marine.

Camp Smitty served as a forward operating base for Marines operating south of Fallujah.  It was opened by Marines from B Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion.  Marines, many who now serve in D Company, chose to name the camp “Smitty” after the nickname Marines called Smith.

Smith, a mechanic with the company’s maintenance platoon, was a passenger in a seven-ton truck that was struck in an improvised explosive device attack June 6, 2005. 

A short but poignant gathering was held on one of the last afternoons Camp Smitty was open.  Capt. William E. O’Brien, D Company’s commander, gathered the Marines together in one of the camp’s large, empty warehouses and explained the history behind Camp Smitty, the important role it played in the Marines’ mission south of Fallujah, and lastly, but with the most detail, the Marine for whom the camp was named after.

“There are two reasons why we came down here,” said O’Brien, the 35-year-old commander, from Moline, Ill.  “It’s the best way to help the regiment and it’s fitting that we are the ones to decommission the camp.

“I still talk to Jonathan’s parents,” O’Brien added.  “I told them that if they closed this camp, then we would do something special.” 

The closing of Camp Smitty signified the progression of gradually consolidating forward operating bases and turning over responsibility for security to Iraqi Security Forces. 

Lance Cpl. Neil Roeder, a 21-year-old from Minneapolis was Smith’s friend and described the events that killed Smith.

“I was in the vehicle behind Smith’s when we were attacked with the IED,” said Roeder, who was a crewman with B Company last year.  “The seven-ton he was in took all the shrapnel from the daisy-chained IED. He was the first KIA the company had.” 

“We were doing IED and cache sweeps north of Fallujah,” added Sgt. Derek H. Evans, 20, from Livonia, Mich., an assistant section leader with D Company, who served with B Company last year.  “He was hit because he volunteered to ride back to Camp Fallujah for supplies.” 

Camp Smitty was erected on an existing machinery manufacturing plant used to make machinery for other industries.  The plant owner owns another factory close by to the north, employing about 1,000 workers there.

The camp served a vital mission in combating the insurgency south of Fallujah.  It provided the Marines a forward base to secure the area while Iraqi Army soldiers and Iraqi police officers were trained and stationed in the nearby cities of Ameriyah and Ferris.

“We were taking a lot of indirect fire from down in this area.  We didn’t have any coalition presence in the area,” O’Brien said.  “We came down to establish a foothold in the battle space and establish a presence until we could get some IPs and IAs down here.” 

Getting the camp up to snuff was no small chore.

“It was a good five days of straight, continuous fortifying and providing security,” Evans said.  “We filled thousands of sandbags.  Privates to staff sergeants were sandbagging because it just needed to get done.  Then, there was a big sign in the maintenance bay that dedicated this place to Smith.” 

“I didn’t want to come back to the same area for this deployment, but I’m glad I’m here to close it down,” Roeder said.  “We sandbagged all the windows and didn’t have any ACs.  It was pretty miserable, but it was the best time I had here.  It was the time I remember most.  This was our home.  It feels good to know that we started it and we are ending it.  We had no idea it would be useful for this long.”

“After the deployment, there was always ‘Do you remember at Camp Smitty when ... ’ stories,” Evans added.  “It was a pride thing.  The amtrack community is pretty small and everyone knows we built the camp.  We took pride in it.  I’ll never forget Camp Smitty.” 

Decommissioning a camp involves removing anything and everything related to an American presence and a thorough cleaning of the area.  It’s basic clean-up work and not the glamorous-type work Marines typically want to do, but fitting because it was named after one of their own, O’Brien said. 

“It means a lot to me and the Marines who knew Jonathan,” he said.

“Take a moment to remember a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice,” O’Brien said, of the Marine who was born in Georgia, but grew up in Eva, Ala.  “I appreciate you all coming down here and working so hard.  Smith was characteristically a hard worker, too ... he dropped over 100 pounds just to join the Marine Corps.”

Smith was one of the more popular Marines in the company.

“Smith was just a hell of a guy.  He was respected by everyone who worked with him,” said Cpl. Nick I. Jason, 22, from Sarasota, Fla., an assistant section leader with D Company. Jason served as a crew chief with B Company last year.  “He could fix all of our mechanical problems.  Whenever my vehicle had a problem, he was the first one I would go to because I knew he knew what he was doing.”

“I went to Smith’s house and to meet his family before our deployment,” said Cpl. Mike R. Rozier, 24, a crew chief from St. Louis, who served with B Company last year.  “He was a good overall Marine. He did what he was told and got the job done.  We always try to get in good with the mechanics so we all knew him pretty well.” 

The Marines had mixed reactions about closing down the camp, but the overall mission the camp served wasn’t lost on the Marines.

“It’s sad to see the base close down because it was named after a friend of mine, but at the same time it’s a big step in completing our mission and getting out of here,” Jason said.  “I hate to see it go but it’s almost for the better.  It’s bittersweet.”

Most of the area surrounding Camp Smitty will now be patrolled by Iraqi Security Forces.  There are several Iraqi police stations nearby and they are taking on the responsibility of more independent operations. 

For Marines who lost their friend, it’s a fitting end.

“As the ISF get more experience operating independently in the smaller areas they will move on to be responsible for larger areas,” Rozier said.  “It’s another step in the right direction of getting the mission done.  It’s definitely a positive step.” 

1st Marine Division