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Iraqi Army takes driver’s seat for Operation Sidewinder

1 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Iraqi soldiers assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division conducted their own mission with support from the Marines and sailors of K Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment during Operation Sidewinder Aug. 1.

The mission was to conduct a cordon and search to interrupt anti-Iraqi forces activity within a nearby urban neighborhood, just outside the Habbaniyah region.

“We were trying to get an Iraqi face in the area,” said Sgt. Brian A. Richmond, a rifleman with K Company who provided support for the Iraqi soldiers.

The 22-year-old squad leader from Williamston, S.C. said the Iraqi Army’s presence showed the Iraqi people that their army was making a difference.

Iraqi soldiers cleared buildings, narrow passageways and gathered intelligence from the locals there.  Marines set up security positions on the outer perimeter.

Richmond said the Iraqi soldiers made more progress at gaining intelligence than he would have expected from his own Marines. When the Iraqis saw someone with whom they could relate, they cooperated more readily.

“They know their culture,” said Lance Cpl. Clint G. Graeff, a rifleman assigned to K Company.

The 22-year-old team leader from Newport, Pa., said the jundi, Arabic for soldiers, knew whom to talk to and what questions to ask.  He explained the Iraqi soldiers can gain more information because they can more easily relate.  The cultural nuances are easily understood by the Iraqi soldiers.  They are the subtle signs Marines, many times, don’t understand.

“They know what signs to look for,” Graeff said.  “Since they’re from here they know what looks out of place.”

That keen eye of the Iraqi soldiers paid off.  They found insurgent material in various locations along the way of their search mission.

Richmond credits some of the Iraqi soldiers’ success to of the training they received from the Marines’ Military Transition Team.

He said the Iraqi soldiers they worked with – according to what his Marines were told –were supposedly the best in Iraq.  From what he gathered, he’s a believer.

Richmond said he’d worked with the Iraqi Security Forces on a previous deployment to Iraq and these soldiers were better than he’s ever seen. 

“They have tactics,” Richmond explained.  “They bound, employ their weapon systems properly and know their sectors of fire.”

Some said the Iraqi soldiers were starting to look like Marines.

“They emulate our tactics,” said Cpl. Javen M. Roberson, a rifleman with K Company. “They wear gear how we wear it, set their gear up how we do and even know our rank structure.”

Roberson, a 24-year-old squad leader from Bowling Green, Ky., said it showed the jundi wanted to better themselves as soldiers.

“Also as a Marine, it makes you feel good because they look up to you just like a little brother,” said Roberson who assisted one of the Iraqi company commanders.

The collaboration was a success.

After all the houses and alleyways were cleared, many Iraqi soldiers encouraged the Marines to go back to camp saying “go home, we got it.”

It was a reassuring sign of an independent Iraqi Army taking on the burden of security for themselves.

“You can start to see that light,” Richmond said. “In perspective, it feels good to start seeing them work independently.”

Richmond said his Marines will continue to support and train Iraqi soldiers to set them up for success, establish a stronghold and sustain that success.

“We’re going to do what we can to help them out, so they can be successful at taking back their country,” Richmond said.

Graeff agreed.

“It’s nice because we can turn the country over to them and we could go home to our families,” Graeff said.

Although more independent, there’s still plenty of work to be done. The jundi are encouraged, but for the time being they don’t want the Marines to leave just yet.

“They love mingling with us,” said Roberson. “They’ll do anything for us and so will we. We treat them as we would treat a Marine because they’re loyal and would die for us just like any Marine.”