MUDIQ, Iraq -- A recent mission to hand out soccer balls turned into one of trading gunfire for Marines of 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment.
The “Betio Bastards” of the battalion’s Jump Platoon came under enemy fire on their way to greet local Iraqis here Aug. 11. It was a mission Marines hoped to build friendships and good will with the local community. Insurgents, however, thought differently and took potshots at Marines.
It was a clear demonstration insurgents have no positive agenda for the Iraqi people. The battalion is serving with Regimental Combat Team 5 in the Habbaniyah area, west of Fallujah.
“I didn’t expect that to happen,” said Cpl. Mario O. Huerta, a 22-year-old from Dallas serving as platoon sergeant for Jump Platoon. “You never know in Iraq.”
Marines just finished disposing of unexploded ordnance when they started receiving direct fire from a nearby cemetery.
“It was one of those ‘oh shoot’ situations,” said Pfc. Robert G. Jewell, a 19-year-old from Ventnor, N.J.
Jewell and other Marines quickly took cover behind their vehicles and readied themselves to return fire.
They didn’t get a chance to shoot back, though. Soldiers from the Iraqi Army were in the area within minutes to hunt down the insurgent attackers.
Coalition Forces were not hurt in the incident.
Marines remounted their vehicles within minutes. The mission resumed. They continued with their goal of interacting with locals, passing out soccer balls and listening to the concerns of the citizens.
“I want to show them that were not bad people,” Jewell said. “We’re good people trying to help the other good people.”
Jewell wasn’t alone. His platoon wanted to accomplish the same goal.
A loud crowd of kids crowded the platoon as soon as they climbed from their vehicles. There was a bustling crowd of eager children, all wanting to talk to Marines. They swarmed around, each taking their chance to talk and collect toys.
“I like the kids,” said Cpl. Bradford W. Price, a 21-year-old turret gunner from Sneads, Fla. “The kids are the ones who will change their country.”
Apparently, the kids liked the Marines also. Children openly asked the platoon’s Marines questions and were curious to learn about American culture.
Some kids were so excited they attracted more kids and adults to the group.
A local elder was one of them. He spoke to the battalion commander through an interpreter about society issues.
The gunfire that punctuated the start of the mission gave way to smiles as Marines wrapped it up, climbing in their humvees to return to their camp.
“I actually feel like we’re helping the community,” Huerta said. “From what I heard, the more we help the people, the more the locals keep the insurgents out. They’d say just go away.”
But the Marines didn’t halt there.
They stopped at a fruit stand with even more people than the last location. They struck conversation with Iraqis there.
“It takes away any preconceived notions about who Marines are,” Price explained. “We’re just guys here to make a change and secure our spot in history.”
Price said they were also there to show Iraqis they can be “no better friend.”
Marines discussed helping locals transform a nearby trash dump into a soccer field for neighborhood kids.
They started by giving the kids there a brand new soccer ball.
Many couldn’t help taking a liking to the children who were kicking around their new toy.
“They’re the same as my nieces and nephews,” Jewell said. “They’re just regular kids.”
“I feel for the kids,” said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class George K. Grant, a 25-year-old hospital corpsman from Long Island, N.Y.
Grant had an instant liking to the children who flocked to them. He grew up a foster child, experiencing hardships that paralleled those of children in Iraq.
“I took care of other kids growing up, so I know how it is,” Grant said.
He said his Marines are making a difference.
“I think were changing the Iraqis views,” Grant said. “When we meet them I think they think we’re not so bad after all.”
Jewell said that makes the hazard all worth while.
“Every time we go out we have to deal with dangerous situations,” Jewell said. “But there’s a purpose behind what we do, so I’m willing to do it.”
“They’ll see that were not after our own agenda,” Grant added. “They’ll see that we’re people putting ourselves at risk just for them.”