CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- No one can say the Darkhorse isn’t willing to relocate.
Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment traded their comfortable white trailers at Camp Fallujah for the early 20th century barracks at Camp Habbaniyah for the remainder of the deployment.
This is the battalion’s second move in five months, now shifting its area of operation west to counter insurgent operations here. The battalion’s goal is to strengthen its relationship with the Iraqi Army and prepare the camp for the arrival of their replacement battalion.
“We want to make the transition smooth and not turbulent,” said 1st Sgt. Scott Boyer, the battalion’s acting sergeant major.
A battalion consists of around 1,000 Marines who all require facilities, workspace, billeting and means of communication. Junior and senior Marines alike are working in the sweltering heat to clean buildings, fill sandbags and install wiring to make those necessities available for everyone.
“There’s a plethora of things that have to get done,” said Boyer, 38, from Reading, Pa. “The support agencies of Headquarters Company are furiously working to establish communications, get lifelines out to the companies and to improve these old buildings.”
The British Royal Army set up the camp during their Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I. The British Mandate in Iraq lasted from 1918-1932 and the buildings still stand.
“There’s a lot of heritage here,” Boyer said. “It’s not what we’re used to, but there’s a purpose.”
Some Marines say the move is both good and bad.
“On one hand, moving so much makes the deployment go by faster,” said Cpl. Ray Leal, an infantry team leader for 2nd Platoon, K Company. “You get a new environment and a new AO broken down every two months. The bad thing about it is it’s a new AO and you have to start from scratch.”
The company has lived in Zaidon, Abu Ghraib, and now Habbaniyah. Leal, a 22-year-old from Edinburg, Texas, said his squad patrolled their last area for six weeks before the populace became familiar faces.
“It’s a challenge going out there and meeting new people, having them trust you,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like an uphill battle because you find a niche in a place and then you have to start all over again.”
Despite the obstacles, Boyer said his battalion has a habit of achievement.
“The caliber of Marines we have, they will work until the work is done,” he said. “It’s been a marathon and we’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations along the way. This is probably mile 20-21 with a few short months left. Marines take any challenge and turn it into a best-case scenario and I think we’ve paced ourselves well.”
The move also spells a change of scenery for the Marines. The nearby Euphrates River raises the humidity and irrigates the area’s vegetation, giving the camp a green look in contrast to Fallujah’s barren desert surroundings.
“We’ll be busy until we leave, because we’re setting up this new camp,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Deitz, the battalion’s career retention specialist. “It’ll pass the time quickly and I really enjoy the green environment even though it seems a whole lot hotter.”
The Marines’ labor is already showing results, with a new chow hall, command operations center and air-conditioned living quarters for most of the battalion.
“Although we’re in a place where the living conditions aren’t pristine, we’ve got trees, grass, shade – it’s a new chapter,” Boyer said.