CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- A few of Regimental Combat Team 5’s newest Marines are just months shy of leaving the Corps’ ranks and they’re putting in one last tour in Iraq.
Sixteen Marines from 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment arrived here to bolster security forces from RCT-5’s security details. They are replacing Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment whose tours in Iraq – and the Marine Corps – came to a close.
Most of the Marines are veterans of the battalion’s tour in Ramadi last year and a couple even had previous tours in Fallujah, when their battalion pushed into the city during Operation Vigilant Resolve, an offensive in April 2004.
“We can’t do our mission without them,” said Capt. Jason S. Freeby, Headquarters Company commander. "The good thing is they bring a resident knowledge of Iraq and combat operations.”
Freeby’s Marines aren’t just the usual task set of headquarters Marines. Beyond administration and supply clerks, he’s running security detachments for Fallujah’s Civil-Military Operations Center, response teams for improvised explosive devices and security at outlying camps and combat outposts. He’s filled those requirements with a mix of Marines from logistics, the 1st Marine Division Band and every now and then, a few infantrymen.
Now, he’s got a few more.
“What that infantryman brings is small-unit leadership,” said Freeby, a 31-year-old from Houston. “These guys also bring combat experience. It’s the intangibles that entails. I’ve got guys who are tested.”
The 16 Marines jumped into their refresher training immediately. They took to Camp Fallujah’s nearby ranges and showed their skills manning M-240G and M-2 .50-caliber machine guns and MK-19 automatic grenade launchers. In a few short days, they’re going to be spread out throughout the regiment’s area, surrounding all of Fallujah and its’ nearby cities.
Lance Cpl. Noah H. Pippin, a 26-year-old from Memphis, Tenn., is on his third tour to Iraq. He was with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment when he marched into Fallujah and nearly everyone in front of him was considered hostile. He did a second tour in Ramadi and now, is ready to head back to some of the areas he fought to control.
“I want to go back and see how the city’s changed,” Pippin said. “The last time I was here, it was shot up and burned up. It was basically a guns-free area. t was a wasteland.”
Pippin said he’s heard about the reconstruction that’s been occurring. There was no such thing as a Fallujah police officer and there were failed attempt at a Fallujah brigade to bring an Iraqi answer for law and order. Now, Iraqi Army soldiers and Iraqi police officers man entry control points alongside Marines. Joint patrols are routine occurrences and Iraqis control whole swaths of the city by themselves.
“It looks pretty uplifting,” added Lance Cpl. James E. Hilliard, a 24-year-old from Tulsa, Okla. “We’re getting the job done. It proves to me that most Fallujans want peace.”
On the ranges, the new grunts were showing what they bring to the fight. Instead of standing by as students, they jumped into the role of teachers. They were clearing guns, teaching immediate and remedial actions and advising others on the finer points of manhandling the heavy weapons.
“We try to concentrate on the basics,” explained Sgt. Nicholas W. Leotti, a 20-year-old from Fort Myers, Fla.
Freeby’s expecting there will be a little friction, though. He’s given them marching orders to “question everything” to ensure Marines are doing what they need to and for the right reasons.
“They have that combat experience,” Freeby said. “I told them, ‘I want you to make us better.’ They’re a new set of eyes and combat requires out-of-the-box ideas. he best ideas come from the sergeants and the corporals on the ground.”