HIT, Iraq -- Walking through the marketplace, buying goods from vendors, being invited into houses to drink chai tea, Iraqi Soldiers and Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), are patrolling the streets of Hit, Iraq, and winning the trust of its people.
When the Marines with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and Iraqi Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, began to patrol the city, Iraqis closed their doors and hid their children.
Now the military receive smiles and waves from children and tips they need from locals to reduce the insurgent threat.
“I couldn’t ask for a better overall effort,” said Capt. David Handy, the commanding officer of C Co. “The Marines have attacked the problem with an extremely mature attitude. Their ability to separate violence with responsible decision making has been outstanding.”
As the Marines set the example, the Iraqi soldiers patrolling next to them are learning the skills they need to defend their country.
“Every day the Iraqi soldiers improve,” said Cpl. Ricky Cauthen, a fire team leader with Charlie Co., originally from Inmen, S.C. “They are smart, work hard and are cooperative. The language barrier is hard; but, as they teach us basic Arabic, we teach them basic English, and we have taught them a lot of hand signals.”
Handy, a New Bern, N.C., native said the Iraqis look to the Marines for the model of a professional military. He stressed that the Iraqis are doing a good job of imitating the Marines’ actions, and every day the people of Hit are becoming more comfortable with the patrols.
“Our mission is to flood the area with forces,” said Handy. “We patrol 24-hours a day, seven days a week. The Iraqis understand we have to search their homes, and we do it respectfully. They hesitated and shut their doors and businesses at first, now the kids run up to the patrols and ask for candy and walking through the market is similar to any busy street.”
Handy said the relationship between the Iraqi citizens and his Marines is only possible because the Marines are constantly out in the town patrolling. He said it takes a great deal of maturity for a Marine to be shot at on one patrol, and hand out candy on the next.
“Patrolling is tiring, but I love interacting with the Iraqi people,” said Navy Seaman Brian Hurst, a Hospitalman with C Co. “When we are searching homes, I’ll do whatever I can to help sick kids or family members. There is one little girl who was in really bad shape when I met her. Both of her kidneys were infected, but her family couldn’t afford hospital treatment. I’ve been getting her medicine and have a patrol run by her house every other day to check on her.”
Hurst, a Lexington, Ky., native said he didn’t expect to be welcomed so warmly, and the Iraqis’ positive response to their presence makes him feel good and gives their mission a purpose.
“They are accepting and want change,” said Hurst. “There are a whole lot more people who appreciate what we are doing than I thought.”
In addition to patrolling between six and 12-hours a day, the Marines stand guard duty. If anything happens they are ready to be part of a quick reaction force.
“We’re trying to make things safer here,” said Cauthen. “During a patrol I saw an Iraqi girl whose eyes made me think of my niece back home. To me, that’s who we are here for, the kids, the future of Iraq. They will remember all we are doing for them.”
Lance Cpl. Travaris Chunn, an infantryman with C Co., and an Atlanta native, said the patrols bring a sense of stability for the citizens. Throughout C Co., about half of the Marines are on their second tour in Iraq. They say this experience is different than their first tours. According to them, they are playing q humanitarian role, but they also know their presence is a deterrent to enemy attacks.
“The people look at you differently, with more respect,” said Chunn. “They are more helpful. While we are passing out candy and helping elderly cross the road, Iraqis come up and tell us important information.”
Handy said while the Marines and Iraqi soldiers patrol the streets and bring the level of violence down, they are opening doors to Iraqi business and homes.
“We have a lot of civil affairs programs in Hit,” said Handy. “We are proving that Coalition forces can live and work with people.”
In addition to Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, MSSG-22 and HMM-261 (Rein), and is conducting counterinsurgency operations with an Iraqi Army battalion, collectively under the tactical control of the 2nd Marine Division.
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.