RAWAH, Iraq --
Six months of security posts and sector patrols have come to an end here for Marines with 1st Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battlalion, 2nd Marines, Regimental Combat Team 5, who left their posts at Traffic Control Points 3 and 4 Oct. 12 when Provisional Rifle Platoon 3, RCT-5 assumed the watch.
After building the post up from the Spartan conditions in which they found it in April, the roughly three dozen Fox Co. Marines took pride in the progress they made in their six months on post.
"We were here to keep security of the area around the bridge and to win the hearts and minds of the local Iraqis,” said Cpl. Brian M. Roarke, 23, a team leader with Fox Co. from Chilhowie, Va. "At first they'd just acknowledge we were here, but after awhile when they'd see us on patrol, they would smile and laugh when greeting us."
The Fox Co. Marines were in charge of securing the north-south bridge across the Euphrates River into Rawah from the rural parts of western al-Anbar province and training the Iraqi Police in traffic control point procedures. At one point, the platoon was conducting more than five sector patrols a day.
With a major road connecting al-Anbar province with the Syrian border, patrolling the area was extremely important in monitoring possible illegal smuggling or insurgent activity. As a sign that criminals and terrorists no longer found it profitable to operate in the area, 1st Plt., Fox Co., only found small amounts of contraband. The biggest catch was detaining a person from the list of high-valued insurgents (HVI) targeted by Coalition forces as a determined enemy.
"We went in outmanned and outgunned, facing 20 (of the HVI's) sympathizers armed with AK-47s and pistols, and we took him without firing a shot," said Staff Sgt. James M. Peyton, 32, platoon commander of 1st Platoon, Fox Co.
In addition to the detainee, the Fox Co. Marines found a cache of more than 60 artillery rounds, a rocket-propelled grenade and a pistol.
Another responsibility of the Fox Co. Marines was to provide training for the Iraqi Police officers who manned the search area of the TCPs.
"(The Marines) did their best with training the IP," Peyton said.
The learning curve for some of the Iraqi policemen was steeper than others, and the challenge for the Marines was to give each individual Iraqi the best training possible.
"We gave them a brief before each patrol, told them what we wanted them to do -- like where to go and what dispersion to take," Roark said. "They know what to do. It's just a matter of getting the most motivated individuals and giving them the reins."
"It took a while for them to get used to how we operate," said Lance Cpl. Joshua L. Pancake, 19, a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Fox Co., from Columbus, Ohio. "They've got the ability of the basic techniques."
The Fox Co. platoon did a lot building up the TCPs, given what they fell in on when they arrived in April.
"It was pretty torn up. There was hardly any concertina wire or (camouflage) netting up, and there weren't barriers or T-walls," Peyton said. "We built up the area, and the (Navy construction) Seabees came in and built racks and showers for us."
After they had grown accustomed to the area, the Marines could see some progress being made. In the time since they arrived, construction has begun on many new homes, three new schools were built, and improvements to the hospital, water treatment facilities and electrical power grid were made.
"I think it was a wise decision to put us in the city," said Roarke, as opposed to operating out of the combat outpost northeast of the town. "That way the civilians could see us here everyday and feel more confident in the security. The people coming through the TCP were friendly, and we'd tell jokes in Arabic and kick the soccer ball around with kids when we were on patrol."
Given the amount of time spent observing his platoon, Peyton has a high regard for the Marines conduct during the security assignment.
"I think they did great, especially with the tools they were given," Peyton said. "They've always been pretty motivated, and they pulled together.
"The growing of their leadership abilities, from the lowest level, was impressive," Peyton added. "The (junior Marines) were thrown into small-unit leadership positions and really stepped up."
After handing over the TCPs to PRP-3 Marines, the platoon returned to COP Rawah.