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RAMADI, Iraq – Sgt. Harold E. Lipscomb, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, tests his radio equipment during Operation Spring Break near Lake Thar Thar in Northern Ramadi May 13. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Adam J. Root/Released)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Adam J. Root

Legendary Marine battalion completes Iraq deployment

5 Oct 2008 | Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

RAMADI, IRAQ (October 5, 2008) – Just over seven months ago, service members with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, packed their bags and traveled halfway across the world to Iraq, marking the unit’s first battalion-sized deployment since its reactivation in late 2005.

The battalion, also known as “The Walking Dead” because of an extremely high mortality rate (above 90 percent) it suffered during the Vietnam War, has completed its tour in Ramadi and is now making its way back to its home station in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Marines and sailors serving with the battalion have spent the last seven months securing a nearly 800-square-mile battle space (almost the size of Rhode Island), which was the first and largest Mega-Area of Operations in the country assigned to a single battalion.

The AO was previously secured by two Marine battalions, an Army brigade headquarters and a tank company.

Ramadi, no more than two years ago, was arguably the heart of the insurgency in Iraq and considered by many to be one of the country’s most violent cities.

Violence in the city remained relatively high until mid-2007, when a group of sheiks, tribal leaders and other citizens agreed to join and fight against the terrorist insurgency that plagued the area.

Dubbed the “Anbar Awakening,” the unification occurred in the city and quickly spread throughout the province.

With the support of Coalition forces, the movement significantly reduced violence in the province and the region unofficially began a recovery and rebuilding process.

Although the number of attacks declined, the complexity of the mission multiplied.

The Marines of 1st Bn., 9th Marines, maintained security in a still dangerous city, while also partnering with Iraqi police and working with the civic government to rebuild the infrastructure.

“There were a lot of skeptics out there before we came,” said Sgt. Jeremy D. Puckett, a section leader from Padukah, Ky., with 81mm Mortar Platoon, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines. “A lot of people said Ramadi wasn’t ready for just one battalion, but we definitely silenced those critics. We successfully met the commander’s intent and accomplished our mission.”

Throughout their deployment, the Marines and sailors oversaw a variety of critical infrastructure rebuilding projects and community events.

Each of the battalion’s companies devised and completed distinct projects appropriate to their area of operation.

In total, the battalion oversaw the completion of more than 216 projects.

“We definitely left our mark in the city with the various events we held and rebuilding projects,” Puckett said.

Weapons Company, along with embedded Provincial Recovery Team- Ramadi (ePRT) and Civil Affairs Detachment 2, hosted a city-wide, five-day soccer tournament in downtown Ramadi, which proved to be one of the more significant events.

“It says a lot about the strength of (1st Battalion, 9th Marines) and the city; that we were able to hold a soccer tournament,” Puckett said. “The security was so strong we were able to take off our gear and play a Marine versus Iraqi police game.”

To get the locals more involved in the rebuilding process, the Marines built upon the trust and relationships previous battalions established with the populace.

From day one, the “Walking Dead” made it a point to accentuate trust, respect, and honesty.

 “This was a great deployment because we were able to form an even stronger relationship with our Iraqi counterparts,” said Capt. John Giannella, a 32-year-old from Hawthorne, N.J., and the Company A commander.  “There was always respect on both sides.”

Respecting the Iraqis’ culture and being open-minded was stressed by the battalion’s command, said Puckett. 

“It was important for us to embrace their culture because we’re in their country,” Puckett said. “During Ramadan, out of respect for their culture, we didn’t smoke, eat, or drink during the day in the presence of the locals. We’re not here to change their culture, but to better their lives.”

The “Walking Dead” was also responsible for mentoring and developing Ramadi’s maturing police force. Their ability to connect with police in their AO is one of several reasons why the force is now mostly independent.

“The IP’s professionalism has increased dramatically because of the strong relationship between Coalition forces and the IP,” Giannella said, “and also because of the strong leadership among the IP and Coalition forces.”

The battalion usually operated side-by-side with Iraqi security forces, conducting a large number of infantry operations and missions in an effort to train their counterparts.

“Training the Iraqi police was challenging at times because of the cultural and language barriers, and also because we’re military and they’re police,” said 1st Lt. Jacob Womble, a 25-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., and the commander of 3rd Platoon, Company C.
“Right now, they’re doing a lot of military work kind of similar to a militia. We’ve been transitioning them from that role to more of an actual police force.”

The service members trained thoroughly for the types of scenarios they were expected to encounter in Iraq before they deployed, but found themselves adjusting to new ways of operating on a frequent basis soon after their arrival.

“I think the phrase ‘adapt and overcome’ is perfect for what we’re doing over here,” Giannella said. “As a single company, we took over for three companies’ worth of battle space.”

 “Although we’re infantry and we train for house-to-house combat and kicking down doors, it’s like what the battalion commander says, ‘we’re Jones and we’re here to paint,’ which basically means adapt to your situation and do whatever is needed to get the job done,” he added.

The IP’s ever-increasing competency allowed the Marines to reduce their presence in the city, gradually moving from living inside the city alongside the IP, to living in outposts along the cities’ perimeter.

Because the city’s security is still fragile, some of the locals worried the move was a sure sign the Marines were packing up and leaving, sooner rather than later.

“The people were a little concerned about our reduced presence,” Giannella said. “But we told them that we would still be here looking over their shoulders and not just leaving.”

While the city is much safer, the threat of attack still exists.

Throughout the deployment the battalion was the target of a number of attacks including eight suicide bombings, over a dozen small arms attacks and more than 10 improvised explosive device attacks. 

In addition to providing and maintaining security in the area, the Marines conducted two battalion clearing operations, many cache sweeps and several cordon and knock searches. The battalion detained roughly 50 high value targets during their deployment.

“We did a lot of joint operations with the police,” Womble said. “Some of the night operations were a little intense, but we always made sure the intensity was appropriate to the operation because most of the people are not a threat. We didn’t want to make any enemies by making innocent people upset.”

A key aspect in counterinsurgency warfare is making yourself vulnerable to protect yourself and your fellow comrades.

The “Walking Dead” made that leap of faith and capitalized on the resulting friendships to leave Ramadi a better place.

“Although there were several attacks and there are still bad guys out there, I felt pretty safe the entire deployment,” Puckett said. “The security of the city lies with the people and I felt safe amongst the people.”