05 March 2008

A Few Good Men - 3/1 and 1/4 Marines

Yesterday was by far the best day we've had in Iraq so far. We spent the entire day with the Marines of 3-1 and 1-4, presently stationed in Fallujah. These young men were outstanding in every facet of their interaction with us, and the performance of their duties. From our introduction before dawn until very late in the day, they went out of their way to welcome us, answer any questions we had, look after us (in an unobtrusive manner), and make sure we had whatever we needed during the long day. John and I were total strangers at 5:30 a.m., but were laughing and swapping stories like old friends by dark. Three of the guys even came by to talk and swap pictures last night. They finally left well after most folks go to bed. I consider it an honor and a privilege to have met these men, and they are now our friends.

Even though these guys are outgoing and friendly with us, they are all business when it comes down to performing their jobs. I know the terms "honed to a razor's edge" and "laser focused" might sound like cliches, but even these terms do not do justice to the intensity I saw in these Marines. There was time for joking around, and other moments when you just knew there was no time for talk. When we would climb out of the vehicle, their deadly serious nature was an energy that we could almost feel.

We traveled to an area (Faris) that, only months ago, would have been an extremely dangerous place. Even today, these people have not seen American troops on a constant basis. Most everyone viewed us in a reserved, cautious manner, even the children (at first.) The sergeant in charge asked me if I wanted to walk through the town market. (John was attending a huge luncheon for all the esteemed guests of the mayor!) I eagerly walked down the street with SSG Cazee, accompanied by a couple of his Marines. I honestly felt safer strolling through the market than I do when I work late at night in downtown Atlanta. I stopped once to hand out some Wrigley's spearmint gum, and slowly, a few children came up to accept it. Within a few minutes though, there was a veritable swarm of kids (school had just been dismissed), and I quickly ran out of gum. One of the children was quick to show me a scar on his shoulder from a bullet wound saying, "Ali Baba, Ali Baba" (their slang for bad guys.) SSG Cazee said, "Well, he definitely knows what it like to get shot. That's too bad that a kid had to deal with that."

Afterward, I walked into several shops to check out out their wares. I asked about one item, which the man priced at $2.00, and haggled with him until we agreed on $1.00 (I was told it's customary to bargain with merchants.) In one stall, three sheep were tied to a post, while the leg of a fourth hung from the roof. I was particularly impressed by the colorful, pink storefront (see the photo in yesterday's post.) It was impeccably decorated, and a lot of work had obviously been put into making the shop attractive. There were quite a few shoppers out, but it was far from crowded. The streets were full of children of all ages, as school had apparently just let out for the day. The children seemed happy, were clean and well dressed, and either carried their books or had backpacks (most had backpacks.)

I also saw and photographed a recently completed reconstruction project - a pumping station for irrigation near the Euphrates River. New pumps and Caterpillar generators hummed as the plant irrigated these incredibly fertile fields along the river.

John and I have much more to do before we return home. We're headed out soon to Ramadi, but I am not sure when. We appreciate your prayers very much. Please post any comments you have to the blog. We enjoy hearing your thoughts about what we have seen, and the images I've captured.


Anonymous said...

John and Greg:

The pictures and the views are just so wonderful
to read and see, I feel like I am there.

May the Lord continue to bless you and form
a hedge of protection around you.

Remember your angel walks among us..........

P.S. Robert said a prayer too.

Suz and Family

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy these day-to-day accounts of Iraqi life through your eyes. I wish I could see if first hand. I wonder what it would be like to play my guitar for some of these children that seemed so interested in your gum. Although I'm sure they were appreciative of your gum, I'd be willing to bet they were far more interested in approaching and communicating with such a nice American fellow such as yourself. Love you, bro

Your little brother,

Anonymous said...

Glad to see John Wroblewski was finally able to make it to Ramadi. I am enjoying the coverage as I was the Deputy Commander of the US ARMY's 1st Brigade 1st Armored Division the USn ARMY unit responsible for the city of Ramadi. The marine battalion that was also there, alongside four other US ARMY combat battalions were great mebers of the team of 5,000 soldiers SEALs and marines who fought for three years to secure this city and surrounding countrysuide and completely defeat AQ. The work is now carried on by the US ARMY's 1st Brigade 3rd ID and its thousands of soldiers and marines a part of which is 2-8 Marines.