HAQLANIYAH, Iraq -- In the afternoon of June 3, outside the Marines forwarding operating base located in the violent city of Haqlaniyah, three insurgents armed with automatic rifles and wearing face masks opened fire on Marines working in front of the barrier-laden base.
The Marines returned fire and two minutes later, another squad of Marines flooded the streets outside the forward operating base in this city of 15,000 and launched an overwhelming counter-attack that resulted in two of three insurgents dead within 10 minutes.
The attack came on the heels of a previous attack less than a month ago when the Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment observed several armed insurgents around an abandoned hotel and attempted to disarm them. The insurgents ran into an abandoned hotel and returned fire from shattered windows. The assault ended hours later when military aircraft leveled the building with precision-guided munitions.
All the insurgents inside were eliminated and no Marines were injured.
According to Gunnery Sgt. Jim Lanham, company gunnery sergeant assigned to Kilo Company, attacks against the Marines are commonplace in Haqlaniyah.
Usually, mortars are shot at the base twice a week and there were occasions when grenades were thrown over the walls into the base as well, said Lanham.
However, the Marines are not being passive about the attacks, said Lanham.
“The Marines are responding well to the attacks and are not afraid to fight back,” said Lanham. “They remain vigilant and motivated. They are reflecting back on their training and following the directions of their leaders.”
Lt. Col. Norman L. Cooling, commanding officer of the battalion, said Lanham’s aggressive action against the insurgents that day was highly commendable.
“The aggressive action of this staff non-commissioned officer of Marines epitomizes everything we expect of leaders in this type of combat environment,” said Cooling. “It was a focused and immediate attack. Lanham seized the opportunity at hand while precisely destroying the enemy without collateral damage and keeping the Marines’ honor clean.”
Lanham said he was just doing what any of the noncommissioned officers in his company would have done.
“I did what I had to do and I know if any of the other Marines in Kilo Company were in that situation, the outcome would have been the same,” said Lanham.
Regardless, Lanham said the Marines are not just focused on quelling the insurgency in the winding streets of Haqlaniyah, located south of Haditha. Lanham, and the rest of the Marines from Kilo Company, patrol the streets of Haqlaniyah with 3rd Civil Affairs Group, which provides an interface between the battalion and the local populace and assists with economic and governmental development.
Marines recently went to a local school. This time, they were not just armed with their weapons, but also several large boxes of school supplies to include paper, pencils, crayons and more than 1,000 book bags, all of which were donated by generous Americans, said Staff Sgt. Omar Palaciosreal, a team leader assigned to 3rd CAG.
“We go out on average five times a week to engage the population and establish a good relationship with them,” said Palaciosreal, a native of Moreno Valley, Calif. “There are a lot of residents in Haqlaniyah who are undecided as to whether they support the insurgency or coalition forces and we are trying to tip the scales in our favor by showing the residents we care about them with acts of kindness.”
Palaciosreal, 28, just like Lanham, has been the target of an insurgent attack while deployed to Iraq.
While traveling through the Al Anbar province in a convoy on April 5, Palaciosreal’s vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device and he lost some of his vision in his right eye from shrapnel.
He faced a decision – return stateside out of harm’s way, or remain in Iraq.
“There is still work that needs to be done in Haqlaniyah,” said Palaciosreal. “Security equals stability which will equal progress. The more we suppress the insurgency, the more we can accomplish to make the quality of life better in Haqlaniyah.”
After the attack, Palaciosreal, along with Marines like Lanham, tackled another project aimed to improve the quality of life for the residents of Haqlaniyah.
Many local workers at a local water plant were being threatened by insurgents, restricting workers to operating the tower for only a few hours a day and leaving many residents without fresh water for several hours during the day.
The workers’ only request was they get assurance from the Marines that they would not allow insurgents to intimidate them while they worked, said Palaciosreal.
The water tower is now operational and provides potable water to residents 24 hours a day.
“The insurgents can intimidate unarmed citizens who just want to lead a peaceful life, but they are not going to intimidate the Marines from Kilo Company,” said Lanham, shortly after the attack in front of the base.
Palaciosreal said city council members are now attending meetings with Marines to discuss future plans to rebuild the city’s infrastructure.
“I believe we have earned the respect of the children in Haqlaniyah,” said Palaciosreal. “They are the future of this country and the future government.”
Palaciosreal cites the fact that many children recognize him immediately when he enters homes in the area to talk to residents and address their concerns and he is regularly greeted by a child who hugs him in the doorway. He said when Marines earn children's respect, they quite often earn their parent's respect as well.
“Marines are making progress in the overall mission they have here in Iraq,” said Lanham. “I am proud of the Marines in Kilo Company. They are the best Marines I have served with in the 16 years I have been a Marine.
“We are halfway done with this deployment,” said Lanham. “Haqlaniyah is going to be a better place when Kilo Company leaves here.”