HIT, Iraq --
The Marines of Task Force 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 assumed control of an area of operations previously held by 3rd Bn., 4th Marines and will continue to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The area, which includes the cities of Hit and Haditha, encompasses a large part of the western Euphrates River Valley and varies between lush green palm groves and open-rocky desert terrain. In the patchwork of desert, palm trees, moderately sized cities and small villages, Marines from TF 3rd Bn., 7th Marines spent a week conducting joint security patrols and meeting key Iraqi leaders before Marines of 3rd Bn., 4th Marines left for home.
With the return of provincial Iraqi control to al-Anbar province on Sept. 1, the battalion’s main role will now be to step back and let the Iraqi government work to support its people with essential services while the Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army provide security throughout the area. The battalion will continue to assist the Iraqi Security Forces who now occupy many of the combat outposts that were once home to Marines.
“(3rd Bn., 4th Marines) did a lot of the leg work for us,” said Major Marcus J. Mainz, 34, the battalion’s operations officer from Wichita, Kan. “When they were here, they had around 28 bases and now we’re sitting here with only (several).”
“We’re trying to help the Iraqi people stand on their own and be able to rule themselves with their own security and their own governance (that can) provide their own essential services.”
The atmospheres of the towns and the attitudes of the people have changed dramatically since 3rd Bn., 7th Marines’ last deployment to Iraq in 2007.
“I would have to say it is pretty calm compared to last time,” said Sgt. James E. Castro, 31, an armory custodian with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Bn., 7th Marines from Harris, Texas.
“Operational tempo is like eight times slower,” said Lance Cpl. Ryan P. Stunkel, a vehicle commander with Combined Anti-Armor Team Red, Weapons Co., 3rd Bn., 7th Marines from Madison, Ill. “The Iraqis seem to have it under control.”
Despite the lack of a kinetic fight in Iraq, the battalion is still playing a key role in helping Iraq.
“I would say (the battalion’s) role in Iraq is going to be to continue the success that we’ve had so far in winning the war, keeping that balance between us and the [Iraqi] people and eventually having a free and stable Iraq,” said Mainz.