Featured News

Lejeune Marines say goodbye to Mahmudiyah Community

17 Sep 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Morning in Mahmudiyah brings an interesting sight for seven-year-old Ali when he steps outside his front door to find 20 camouflaged Marines on patrol dressed in protective vests and toting rifles, machine guns and even a rocket-launcher. 

Ali does something even a grown man wouldn't have done seven months ago. He smiles, waves and runs to greet his neighborhood guardian angels.

"When we arrived in Mahmudiyah seven months ago, there was shooting every day in the city.  You couldn't drive through the market without hearing shots fired," said Cpl. Michael S. Edwards, 23, supply clerk and native of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Edwards works with the Civil Affairs Group for 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, and is on the streets every day. 

"Now Ali, one of the kids we see on our patrols, can go to the market and shop for his family without worrying about being shot or robbed," he added.  "There's been a world of change."

It hasn't been an easy road for the Camp Lejeune, N.C., based-battalion to walk - four Marines from the battalion died on the dusty streets here during their deployment - but it's impossible not to notice a change in the community.

"It used to be people wouldn't even come out of their houses to talk to us," Edwards said. "There are still a few people who give us dirty looks but for the most part everyone is smiles and waves when we go by on patrol."

More than $1.5 million has been spent inside the battalion's area of operations on public works projects.  Many attribute the battalion's success to their initiative in improving the future of Iraq, to include the local schools.

"When you affect the children you affect the future of Iraq.  The children here aren't afraid of us anymore. They know we're here to help them," said Sgt. Jacob Villarreal, 29, a combat engineer and native of Fresno, Calif.  "When we got here, the communities were in terrible shape with trash and prehistoric sewer systems emptying on the street.  Now it looks respectable."

Many of the Marines here carry with them one moment that crystallized the fact that the community they were working to rebuild was taking matters into their own hands.

"I remember seeing a group of men carrying shovels to clean the trash off the streets, that blew my mind," said Villarreal.  "It meant they wanted to improve their communities too."

The fall off the Ba'ath Regime opened up many parts of Iraq to the world through something many Americans take for granted, satellite TV.  Owning one just three years ago would be a death sentence.  Today, Iraqis are learning about a new quality of life and a higher standard of living.

People used to always wear raggedy clothes, and were dirty, according to Villarreal.  Over the months we've seen things change.  Now they can see what the outside world is like and they can begin to join it.

Efforts made from the families of the Marines in the battalion have also helped the local community.  An organization founded by the Key Wives Club called '2+2 = Forever' sent school supplies donated from companies in the U.S.  In addition, 36,000 pounds of medical supplies and equipment were donated from several hospital supply companies to be given to the Mahmudiyah Hospital.

From the world outside Iraq to their own communities, the Iraqis here are eager for change.  Both the police departments and the Iraqi National Guard have seen a jump in recruitment over the last months.

"You'd never see a truck full of Iraqi police patrolling through the ghetto, now you see it all the time," said Edwards.  When asked if people were nervous at seeing the police around so often, he replied, "The people who want to see change in their communities love it."

Iraqi people dedicated to making a change are more willing to aid the coalition forces in their fight then they were when the unit arrived in March.

"Once, we were attacked by a roadside bomb.  When we were interviewing locals about it, one man was willing to help us in the future whenever he found out anything," Edwards said.

Seeing the fight brought to their doorstep makes Iraqis realize that their families' safety is at stake, Edwards added.

"Every time we roll up an insurgent or a crooked cop, take weapons off the street and give kids a place to play, we're making a difference," said Edwards.
Although many of the battalion's and surrounding community's expectations were met, there is still progress to be made.

"I'd hoped to create more long-term employment for the Iraqis here.  Working for the coalition is dangerous work, and (risking their lives) for a short term job isn't worth it to them," said Lt. Col. Giles Kyser, commanding officer of the battalion.

Seeing the quality of life improve through their efforts is something many Marines will take home with them to their own communities.

"I've learned more about myself and my abilities in these months than I have from my whole enlistment.  I'm going to take the lessons I've learned here back to my own community," Edwards said. "When something is messed up I don't need to write the mayor or the congressman.  I can go out and fix it myself.  I have the ability and confidence to do that from serving the community here."

"I could not be more proud of what the Marines here have accomplished," said Kyser. "We delivered freedom to this country, now we deliver compassion to rebuild it and we will deal death to those who challenge us."