HABBANIYAH, IRAQ --
If there is one unit in 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, that observes their unit’s 200 square kilometer area of operation (AO) on a daily basis, it is the battalion commander’s personal security detachment (PSD). PSD provides transportation and security for the commander as he travels throughout the AO and to other key areas in the battle space, said Sgt. Jason S. Hubbard, PSD platoon commander.
“Basically, we take the commander wherever he needs to go and provide security to make sure he is safe at all times,” said the 24 year-old Asheville, N.C., native. We go to city council meetings, Iraqi Police graduations, Sheik meetings, to visit all of the Marines in the battalion…basically anything and everything. We have been to Ramadi, Saqlawiyah, Al Taqaddum, Fallujah, Baharia and every single position within the battalion’s area of operations.”
During these combat patrols the Marines of PSD have driven over 9,800 miles, averaging around 104 miles a day while moving at about 15 miles per hour. On several occasions the Marines have visited every single firm operations base in the battalion’s region in one day. The Marines have traveled nearly every road there is in the Habbaniyah and Fallujah area.
“We went all over the AO, from Husaybah to Saqlawiyah,” said “Gus” a 67-year-old Iraqi interpreter who serves with the PSD. “The CO has been very active to meet with as many personalities in all of the relavent areas, including sheiks and other people around the AO.”
Because of PSD’s constant exposure and view of the Al Anbar region, Hubbard said it has given him the opportunity to see the progress made by 1st Bn., 1st Marines, also known as the “ready to fight” battalion.
“In this area there is now electricity, they are re-building the mosques and there are houses and stores… these are just observations from my driving around all the time,” said the stocky Marine. “When we first got here there was no traffic, but now, there is tons of traffic, business, a lot of schools have been built and a lot of medical facilities opened.”
Gus, a local native, also has a unique perspective on the PSD mission. He has seen the area evolve and observed the “ready to fight” battalion’s accomplishments during the last seven months.
“I think going at the rate they did on a daily basis, which is early morning until after sundown, I would say they introduced and witnessed many changes and successfully removed social and psychological gaps and barriers,” Gus said. “As a whole, they have been successful and have gotten to view first hand the existence of a real tranquility in the AO as compared to the situation 12-15 months ago “
These improvements, although influenced by the Marine’s constant operations, were made possible because of an Iraqi willingness to affect change in their own country, said Hubbard.
“The biggest difference from my last deployment to this one is the Iraqis that are willing to help us,” said Hubbard, who was first deployed with 3rd battalion, 5th Marine Regiment during the battle of Fallujah in 2004. “And it makes all the difference in the world. They know their neighbors; they know who is coming in, who is going out and who isn’t supposed to be in the area. I honestly didn’t expect it to be this far along when I came back. On my first deployment it took us two weeks to clear the city of Fallujah. We evacuated the city and the only people still left in the city were those that wanted to fight. When I was here in 2004, if there was a crowd of Iraqis around me, I had cause to be nervous. Now I eat with them, I know them and they know me and security has gotten better out here because of all of this. Now, we stop at vehicle and personnel checkpoints and they have actually begun implementing and conducting searches, which have gotten a lot better.”
The Iraqis willingness to help in their own community allows Marines, like those of the battalion, to make much more significant accomplishments in areas other than security. But that isn’t the only benefit said Hubbard.
“The Marines have put up with a lot and they have worked extremely hard over here,” he said. “It’s not rare for me to ask them to be up at the trucks doing pre-combat checks and pre-combat inspections at 0600 and be on the road until twenty two hundred, then the next day do it all over again starting at 0500,” said Hubbard. “But, it has gotten better for Marines also. Nineteen Marines were killed in my battalion with 3/5. This year we lost three. That’s three too many, but it is a lot better. The improvements for the Iraqis have been great, and for us things have gotten better also. The gear is better, the chow is better, life is better for everybody and I would say things are definitely improving a lot over here.”
“Yes, we can say that other units put projects into play and have done good things,” said Gus, who has served with more than seven military units in the area since 2003. “But this unit undertook and completed many projects and conveyed a message of sincere concern for the revitalization of Iraq as a growing and upcoming country, which will regain its former status as a self sufficient state…and not only that, but also a state that enjoys a respectable seat among the advanced nations of the world.”