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Marines, Iraqi Security Forces combine efforts at city entrances

26 Aug 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

A city once known as a heavily populated insurgent stronghold isn’t carrying that reputation any more. Thousands of Fallujans moved back into their homes and businesses, but unwelcome guests meet a mixed crowd of forces at the cities limits.

Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, man several different entry control points leading into the city. They work hand in hand with Fallujah Police and Iraqi Army soldiers, controlling who and what gets into the city.

“It’s a challenge,” said Lance Cpl. Kevin C. Vanorsdale, a 22 year-old from Rochester N.Y., who spends his days at one main entry point. “We try and get as many vehicles and people through the ECP as possible, but we also make sure that no one trying to harm the people or coalition forces operating in the city make it through our lines.”

At ECP 1, the Marines and Iraqi Forces search and let in an average of 1,000 to 1,500 vehicles daily. Recent months averaged upwards of 30,000 vehicles carrying everything from local Fallujans to business employees and contractors down the city’s main road.

Cars can be seen waiting in line before the entry points open their gates to traffic.  Marines here know how frustrating the long lines can be.  Still, they don’t underestimate the danger of insurgents trying to blend in with locals and make their way into the city.

“It’s a balancing act,” said 1st Sgt. Leon H. Rideout, a 43-year-old from Lancaster, N.H., assigned to the battalion Headquarters and Service Company.  “We have to keep a steady flow of people moving through the ECP’s while making sure the safety of the Iraqis and Marines is paramount.”

The presence at the entry points and long hours is paying off for the Marines and Iraqi Forces here. More anti-Iraqi Forces and insurgents have been caught trying to get into the city by Marines and Iraqi Police and soldiers manning the checkpoints than those operating inside the cities boundaries. 

Iraqi Police and Army soldiers are doing their part here, searching and interacting with locals constantly.

“You have to have them there.  It is a huge help,” Rideout said. “They have been the genesis of us capturing people that are not supposed to be in the city. They are just as actively engaged as the Marines are.”

“They know their job and they do it well,” said Sgt. Wilson Wang, from San Gabrial, Calif., who serves as sergeant-of-the-guard at one of the ECPs.

Getting through the checkpoints is not as easy as a vehicle and personal search. Anyone wanting to cross the lines into Fallujah must produce a badge, which is issued by Marines.

The badges aren’t just given out at will either. Iraqis must show two items to prove that they are eligible for the identification card: a “pataka,” or government ration receipt, and “genceia,” which proves the person’s naturalization and birth place.  Iraqis present them to Marines who check to make sure that the person is living in Fallujah before taking fingerprints and issuing a badge.

Almost 2,000 people were turned away last month for the inability to produce a badge while trying to make it past the checkpoint forces.  Marines are firm with the rules, although they understand and appreciate those who wait and sometimes grow frustrated while getting searched every time they go into town.

“The people have to know that we are there to help, but we are not here to mess around,” said Wang, a 27-year-old.  “If it wasn’t for the Marines and Iraqis working together day-in and day-out to make sure that no insurgents or weapons are getting into the city, things in Fallujah wouldn’t be where they are at today. Smuggling weapons has never been harder for insurgents, and we are going to keep it that way.”

Since arriving in Iraq five months ago, the battalion has seen an increase in the security of the entry control points and the performance of the Iraqi Forces manning them, according to Rideout.

As reconstruction booms and increasing numbers of citizens return to Fallujah, the checkpoints, and the Marines, Iraqi Police and soldiers manning them, will continue to stand ready to protect those deemed eligible onto the busy streets.