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'New England’s Own' Marines use friendliness to gather facts

10 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

Marines counter an insurgency not only by use of force, but also by communicating with local Iraqis in their own environment.

Marines from A Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, patrolled through lush vegetation and narrow roads in a farming area north of Fallujah recently, gathering information about the citizens and searching for possible insurgent activity along the way.

“We look to see what is going on in the area,” said Cpl. Michael A. Anderson, a team leader from Lexington, Mass. “We take names of who lives where and also look to see if they have any information on any bad guys that we can try to catch.”

Just after sunrise, the squad of Marines dismounted their vehicles on a main road so they could better navigate their way throughout the agricultural village.

Unlike the city areas in Iraq, Saqlawiyah is dense in vegetation, livestock and farmlands, making patrolling from house-to-house more tedious for the Marines.

“It isn’t like being inside the city where you have blocks of houses. Here all of the homes are sporadically spread out,” said 22-year-old Cpl. Joshua T. Turner, team leader. “It is almost like an upper-class suburb.  There are a lot of farmlands and farmers here.”

Sgt. Leif E. Hassenplug talked with the villagers, asking if they had weapons inside before the Marines entered to conduct a search.

“Each household is allowed to have one AK-47, with one magazine of ammunition,” Turner explained.

While Hassenplug was asking a local man questions about suspicious activity in the area, a team of Marines searched his home.  They turned up an unauthorized rifle.

“Why do you have two guns here?” 33-year-old Hassenplug asked the farmer. “You know the rules and you know that we are here to enforce those rules.”

The Marines confiscated the weapon and took notes on the location of the home for further questioning.

They continued the patrol under tall palm trees and around herds of sheep, and took every opportunity along the way to stop and talk with local citizens.

“We ask the people what they need or would like to have,” 23-year-old Anderson said. “We also try to find out how they think that we are doing in the area … what could we do better and what they don’t like us doing.”

Often, Iraqi families offered drinks and their homes to the Marines as they answered questions and explained their concerns.

“Sometimes I hear mortars, but I don’t know if they are you guys or the insurgents doing it,” said one Iraqi man talking through an interpreter. “I can not tell who it is.”

A few of the Marines sat with the man in his home and talked with him extensively about his distress.

“We do it for a lot of reasons,” explained Turner, from Bloomsburg, Pa. “To establish a rapport with the public and get information to them as well.”

After hours of talking with villagers and searching for signs of insurgency, Marines headed back to their vehicles and eventually back to their forward operating base.

A Company continues to fight the insurgency in the area and support the local citizens of Saqlawiyah.