Saturday, March 25, 2006------------------------------------------------------------------------
Our Marines are hard at work in Iraq trying to make sure that the Iraqi force is as capable and safe as our own.
Semper Fi and Oorah!
News from the Front:
Iraqi soldiers roll in armor, thanks to Marines
story and photos by Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva
CAMP HABBINYAH, Iraq(March 18, 2006) -- Iraqi soldiers in Fallujah are rolling in armored humvees, just like their Marine counterparts.
Iraqi soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division took delivery of 10 new armored humvees, complete with their unique paint scheme and Iraqi flags painted on the sides. It was a significant step forward in increasing the capabilities and confidence of Iraqi soldiers to carry out their own independent operations.
Until now, Iraqis patrolled the streets of Fallujah in Nissan pick-up trucks, decked with armored doors and blast shields along the bed.
“This is very important to the soldiers,” said Gunnery Sgt. Herbert J. Kennedy, a 36-year-old assistant supply officer liaison to the Iraqi 2nd Brigade. “This is something they were looking forward to. It’s a very good day.”
The humvees were bought by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and fitted and painted by contractors and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment.
“Now they can actually feel protected,” added Kennedy, from Beaumont, Texas. “There’s a better sense of pride.”
Pride was apparent among the Iraqi soldiers as they looked over their new vehicles. The opened every door, popped the hood and inventoried parts as Marines gave quick refresher classes to make them familiar with all the controls.
Iraqi soldiers said through an interpreter, they were pleased with the delivery. They praised the “high technology” and said that with the added protection, they could “destroy the terrorists.”
“We’re very excited,” one Iraqi soldier said. “We can’t wait to go into the city of Fallujah with these cars. The terrorists will be more scared and will take more consideration before attacking.”
The new humvees are more than just better protection for the Iraqis. It’s also a visual reminder of their growing capabilities in the eyes of their own citizens.
“They’re a status symbol,” explained Capt. Jon J. Bonar, a 31-year-old from Los Angeles who serves as the senior logistics advisor to the 1st Iraqi Army Division. “All the soldiers take their picture in from of the humvees.”
Kennedy agreed, adding the unique paint scheme with Iraqi flags sends a message both friends and foes.
“There’s a definite distinction between their humvees and ours,” he said. “Its’ camo pattern won’t be mistaken. When they’re conquering an objective, they’ll be identified by their colors. It’s a great honor. It shows the Iraqis are taking the lead in the fight.”
The Iraqi soldiers added they’re excited about the residents of Fallujah seeing their own army’s humvees rolling through the streets.
“The people see we have modern weapons and will be more encourage because they will see we can protect them,” one Iraqi soldier said.
“I believe this is the best military vehicle in the world,” another said.
Lance Cpl. Brent E. Driskill, a 20-year-old motor transport mechanic from Hot Springs, Ark., said the new humvees are just about as good as they get.
“They have the new up-armored kits,” said Driskill, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5. “They’re equipped with turbos on the engines. Everything’s built up. The turrets they have are more armored than ours.”
Driskill added that with regular maintenance, the vehicles should last seven to eight years.
“It’s amazing how much of a step up it is for them,” he added. “They have more than twice the amount of weight and twice the amount of armor. They’re pretty well protected.”
The Iraqis drove with Marines from Fallujah to Habbinyah and back. For the mission commander, it was his first time working directly alongside Iraqis. He was encouraged by what he saw.
“We made the assumption that they were not very experienced,” said Capt. Jason S. Freeby, a 31-year-old from Houston, serving as commander of Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 5. “I think we saw an example of the human spirit. No matter what culture, everyone wants to be successful. Iraqi’s do too.”
The Iraqis folded inside the Marine convoy for movement, making the move to and from Habbiniyah smooth. Freeby credited it to the burgeoning professionalism of Iraqi soldiers.
“It was like Christmas morning for those guys,” he said. “They’re excited about being successful. They have some good leadership and it filters down to the younger guys.”
Iraqi soldiers said the new humvees also speak to the trust between Marines and their forces. They know that Marines won’t be around forever and saw the addition of armored vehicles to their ranks as a step forward to complete military independence.
“It’s a very good collaboration between the Iraqi Army and Marines,” an Iraqi soldier explained. “I consider them as friends, especially Marines. It will be a memory of a friend, because some day, U.S. forces will leave.”
[Note: First photo is of the new Iraqi Hummers, second photo is of Lance Cpl. Jason A. Lynd, a 22-year-old from Fountain Valley, Calif., explaining the switches and knobs of the newly-issued armored humvees to an Iraqi soldier.]