Saturday, January 24, 2009

To our friends, families, and all those who support us...

Well everyone, our tour has come to an end. We, Regimental Combat Team 1, have accomplished a lot over the last year. Just see our last post to learn more about that. But none of it would have been possible without the great support of our friends, families and everyone else who has our backs there in the U.S. We have received countless care packages, letters, e-mails and other gestures of support throughout this tour and we owe our fondest gratitude to you all. 
We are on our way home now and we look forward to arriving back on U.S. soil. We have missed the everyday luxuries that we sometimes forget about until we don't have them anymore, especially spending time with our loved ones. Deployments are always difficult on everyone, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we are proud to serve you, the great citizens of the United States of America. 
Again, thank you all for your support. Please continue to visit us on our stateside Web site www.i-mef.usmc.mil/div/1mar/default.asp. 
   
Semper Fidelis

Monday, January 19, 2009

Regimental Combat Team 1 completes third Iraq tour

Story by SSgt. Joshua S. Higgins

RAMADI, Iraq (January 20, 2009) – Marines with Regimental Combat Team 1 turned another page in the history books, completing the regiment’s third tour in Iraq in only four years, Jan. 20.

RCT-1 was the first Marine Corps unit to take command in the eastern region of al Anbar Province, a mostly Sunni tribal area that includes such vital cities as Fallujah, Saqlawiyah and Karmah.

It is also one of the Corps’ only units to participate in the march up through Baghdad in 2003 and in both Operation Vigilant Resolve and Operation al Fajr in Fallujah in 2004, where they saw some of the heaviest combat of the war in Iraq.

The regiment again took command of the province’s eastern region 12 months ago, and jumped on a wave of momentum set by its predecessors during the last few years to continue the region’s advancements in security, development and governance.

The Marines have seen a lot of positive change since they started their tour. When they arrived the Anbar Awakening had reached its pinnacle, the troop surge was still in effect and al Qaeda was beginning its decline.

Security in al Anbar Province and throughout Iraq had improved enough by early summer to begin drawing down Coalition forces.

In March, the regiment had taken over security in Ramadi, a city of nearly 1.2 million people, and its area of operations grew 5,200 square miles, twice its original size. Since then, its number of forces was reduced from approximately 8,600 early in the deployment to only about 3,800 today.

The challenge in growing geographically while reducing personnel was maintaining momentum, according to Col. Lewis A. Craparotta, the regiment’s commander.

Yet on Sept. 1, the regiment handed over control of security in the region to the Government of Iraq following the notable Provincial Iraqi Control ceremony in Ramadi, Aug. 26, during which local Iraqi leaders signed a Command and Control Memorandum of Understanding.

The success the regiment is having on the battlefield today is the result of five years of Coalition forces’ sacrifices, but a lot of credit should also go to Iraqi security forces and the military training teams who trained them.

Iraq’s army and police units have grown from a “fledgling police and military force to a fully capable and operational counterinsurgency force in an amazingly short amount of time,” according to Maj. Tony Barrett, the RCT-1 intelligence officer.

“Al Anbar has not had this good of an outlook in the millennia-long history of its people,” said Barrett. “There are constantly improving essential services, increasing political rivalries that are not turning violent, multiple internal and foreign investment firms looking to invest in al Anbar and a sustained reduction in violence that is making this all possible.”

To support reconstruction efforts in al Anbar, RCT-1 has spent over $50 million in aid spanning a range of projects from repairing battle-damaged buildings to purchasing school supplies.

Capt. Emily Grant, the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team liaison officer with RCT-1, said money the regiment put into the local economy has spurred the economic recovery eastern al Anbar is experiencing today.

“This economic recovery is evident to anyone driving down a city street,” said Grant. “Construction companies are rebuilding privately-owned buildings, restaurants are opening daily, auto-repair shops are doing brisk business and billboards are advertising all sorts of goods for sale. The economy has really taken off.”

Some of the money, she said, has also supported small business owners who often face significant financial difficulties. The regiment has provided $90 thousand in grants to supplement business loans when traditional banks have been unwilling to lend.

To solve the loan problem, RCT-1 worked closely with the United States Agency for International Development to expand branches of the Al Takadum micro-finance agency into Fallujah and Ramadi.

But the aid RCT-1 and other Coalition forces have provided was not handed over without holding the Iraqi government accountable.

Marines have been meeting twice weekly with essential services managers at al Anbar’s provincial government center, and USAID has provided training programs, technical expertise and budgeting software to improve their budget planning and spending.

“Budget planning and budget execution is, in my opinion, the key to Iraq’s future,” said Grant.

Part of the budget problem has also been ethno-sectarian struggles between al Anbar and the rest of Iraq, which has led to gross underfunding of the region by the central government.
Coalition forces are hoping upcoming elections throughout Iraq will help to solve some of the budget problems.

“Eastern al Anbar needs to be able to secure funding from the national government to enable industrial reconstruction that will offer jobs to all of its people as well as people from outside Anbar,” said Barrett. “But I think great hope exists in the upcoming (provincial) elections and next year’s national elections.”

Iraq’s provincial elections are scheduled to take place Jan. 31, a short time after Marines with RCT-1 have made their way home to reunite with friends and family in the U.S.

Though they are leaving Iraq behind, possibly for the last time, their efforts and sacrifices will live on.

“While this deployment may be closing the Iraq chapter in RCT-1’s illustrious history there is much we can look back on and be proud of,” said Barrett. “We continue to mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters we have lost on the battlefields and we can honestly say that they did not die in vain; the Marines and sailors of RCT-1 served their memory well and there are literally hundreds of thousands of Iraqis that have their sacrifice to thank as they look towards a bright and prosperous future.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Generous donations help keep Karmah children warm during winter






Photos and story by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis




KARMAH, Iraq (January 6, 2009) – Marines of Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, distributed shoes and cold-weather jackets to children living in Karmah, Iraq, Jan. 6.

During Karmah’s coldest months, ranging from 60 degrees during the day to freezing temperatures after dusk, many children are without winter apparel and some even without shoes on their feet.

The battalion’s chaplain, Navy Lt. Brandon Harding, a 38-year-old from Kailua, Hawaii, with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, initiated the effort to help Karmah’s less fortunate youth, contacting various organizations and non-profit organizations throughout the U.S. to help donate clothing several months ago at the beginning of the winter season.

The clothing drive was the fifth the battalion has coordinated, donating approximately 4,500 pounds of clothing overall.

“The response has been overwhelming,” Harding said. “It’s amazing to see how generous Americans are. Hopefully it helps [Iraqi people] see we’re good people.”

Iraqi children lined up by the dozens, patiently waiting to receive a pair of shoes and a jacket to combat the biting cold at sundown.

The children were more than enthusiastic and could not stop smiling and thanking the Marines and sailors for the valued donations.

“It’s very good,” said Hamid Naief, a father of seven residing in central Karmah. “From the first time [Coalition forces] got here, things have been very good. This shows the generosity first hand.”

Naief said even as the city’s economic situation slowly improves, it is still difficult to afford clothing for his children and he can not say enough about how much the donation helps his family at such pivotal time.

“We need it so much,” he said. “I do not like seeing the kids go to school or to play with bare feet and without jackets. The Americans helping us means so much. They are our friends and we thank them.”

Aside from the countless children walking off with new shoes and coats, modeling to their friends their newfound spoils, the clothing drive further promotes relationships with Karmah’s citizens.

Marines trained in urban warfare performed a completely unrelated task assuming the role of shoe-salesmen and fashion consultant by helping groups of young children select different shoes, mindful of complementary colors for their new jackets.

Although the Marines’ training went untested during the clothing drive, most of them were enthusiastic about helping less-fortunate children.

“On one side, we just lost a Marine yet we’re giving (Iraqis) clothes,” said Lance Cpl. Derek Nelson, a 21-year-old team leader from Chino Hills, Calif., with 2nd Platoon, C Company, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines. “But on the other side – they’re just little kids,” he further explained. “They don’t know (about the complexities of war) and they have to go to school in the freezing cold without shoes or jackets. It feels good to help them, and it’ll just keep helping us gain support from the local people. They know we’re helping.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Marines gather, pay respects to fallen brother

Story and photos by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq (Dec. 28, 2008) – As the Marines stood at attention, perfectly aligned and covered, they listened as the first sergeant called roll.

After calling one Marine’s name, no one responded. He yelled it again—no reply. The Marines in attendance knew there would be no reply, no matter how much they wanted to hear a voice.

The first sergeant turned around after his last call and Marines with rifles fired in succession a three-volley salute into the sky.

Marines with Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and other units on Camp Baharia gathered to honor Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Reilly, Jr., a rifleman who served with the battalion’s C Company, December 28.

Reilly was killed in action during a patrol in Karmah, Iraq, Dec. 21. A 19-year-old rifleman from London, Ky., he served as a platoon radio operator with 2nd Platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.

One could tell by the ceremony Reilly had made many close friends during his time with the battalion and is sure to be remembered by all those with whom he served.

Several Marines, including the battalion’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Andrew R. Milburn, spoke about their memories of Reilly.

“(Reilly) did not die in vain,” Milburn said. “He died a Marine in the service of (his) country, and he will be remembered. He was an exceptional young man.”

Reilly’s friends talked about some of their most memorable times with him, and about moments that defined who he was.

“For me and T.J. it was all fun and games,” said Lance Cpl. Floyd Rude, a 21-year-old team leader from Bowling Green, Ohio, with 2nd Platoon. “T.J. was by far my best friend that I’ve ever had, and that I could’ve ever asked for. He was always there for anyone, whether you needed him to be or not.”

Capt. Paul Stubbs, commanding officer of C Company, talked about how Reilly chose the hardest road in life and how his memory reminds Marines why they are truly a band of brothers.

“Of all possible endeavors, he chose the rockiest road and the toughest clime (by joining the Marine Corps),” Stubbs said. “Our brother Tom is now among the revered and solemn group of Marines who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“I take comfort that my fallen son will be cherished in the hearts of so many,” Stubbs tearfully added.

Staff Sgt. Mike Brown, 2nd Platoon commander, said he will always remember Reilly as an exceptional Marine.

“We watched Reilly grow,” Brown said. “We watched him grow to one of the finest Marines I’ve ever known. He was always smiling. He just had that aura about him.”

Brown told the gathered Marines how Reilly was always on top of his work, and how if someone slipped up, he wouldn’t hesitate to remind them.

“I remember I was trying to get a radio check one day,” Brown said. “I was getting frustrated no one was answering, so I called him over. I said, ‘you’re the radio operator aren’t you – how am I suppose to trust you when we’re about to go outside the wire and I can’t get the radio to work.’ He said, ‘staff sergeant, you have to turn the radio on.’ He never let me forget that.”

Reilly was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and Combat Action Ribbon for his service. He is survived by his father Thomas Reilly, mother Georgina Bray, sister Regina Reilly, and brother Kenneth Bray.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Coalition forces pay visit to hospital, donate supplies

Story by Staff Sgt. Joshua S. Higgins

RAMADI, Iraq (January 7, 2009) – Service members at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, toured Ramadi General Hospital and donated 20 crates of medical supplies including oxygen masks, IV bags and mass casualty equipment, Jan. 7.

Soldiers and sailors with the embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team-Ramadi and with Regimental Combat Team 1 visited with staff at the hospital to discuss emergency response capabilities and preparedness for potential threats during Iraq’s elections scheduled for Jan. 31.

While Coalition forces and citizens alike hope for a peaceful election process, the need to be prepared for mass casualties is everpresent as Iraqis work to rid insurgent activity and build a sovereign nation.

“Since Ramadi General Hospital is the regional referral and trauma center for al Anbar Province and for the city of Ramadi respectively, it was imperative to reassess its capabilities,” said Cmdr. Sung W. Song, the regimental surgeon for Regimental Combat Team 1.

The hospital is one of 11 hospitals in al Anbar and has the province’s only burn center. It is capable of handling just over 400 patients, with a one-nurse-per-20-patient ratio.
With four floors and 13 operating suites, the hospital operates at 70 percent capacity, on average, with a staff of 45 surgeons.

Dr. Thaer Mohammed Dhaher al-Sa’ad, a general surgeon and the hospital manager, said his staff has discussed plans for the election period, and “as always we will be ready and on stand-by.”

Thaer thanked the service members for the hospital supplies, and said there are many more things the hospital needs.

The hospital was built in 1984 and could use some refurbishments. Thaer pointed out plumbing and flooring problems throughout the hospital and some faulty medical equipment in need of repair.

Lt. Colonel Joseph Fasceski, a civil affairs officer with ePRT-Ramadi, said he and others work closely with the hospital to provide whatever possible, but with Iraq’s new government there is a budgeting system in place for financial needs.

“We work with them as much as possible,” Fasceski explained. “But the long-term key to (the hospital’s stability) is to work in the direction of making their system work better.”

Fasceski said finances and equipment had always been “pushed down from the top” in the past, and the new system of budgeting from bottom to top is one that he and other ePRT members are assisting the hospital staff with. He said getting results has been slow, but he hopes after the elections the process will become more fluent.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Marines sacrificing in more ways than one

Story by Lance Cpl. Jerry Murphy

CAMP RAMADI, Iraq (Dec. 31, 2008) -- Deployed service members sacrifice more than just time away from home, they find ways to give to communities back home and around the world through the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC).

Marines of Headquarters Company, Regimental Combat Team 1, made donations to the campaign totaling $6,002 from 43 contributors, which exceeds the company’s goal of $5,700 and averages to just over $140 per person.

Ensign Peter Bruss, a 33-year-old Information Operations officer from Green Bay, Wis., with Regimental Combat Team 1, served as the CFC coordinator for the regiment during the recent campaign from Sept. 1 through Dec. 15.

“Most of the Marines (with the company) have been out here almost a year and the fact that they are willing to donate despite being in Iraq and away from their families is a true testament of their dedication and willingness to help others,” Bruss said. “These Marines find it in their hearts to give a little bit out of their paychecks every month and that’s what the CFC is all about.”

Administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the CFC allows federal employees an opportunity to provide monetary donations to their choice of more than 1400 charitable organizations.

According to Bruss, it is easy for federal employees to contribute to the campaign; all they have to do is contact their unit’s campaign key worker to get the process started.

“Any federal employee is eligible to donate through the CFC and one of the best ways (federal employees) find out about the CFC is through word-of-mouth,” he said. “They can also talk to their unit’s CFC coordinator or key people, and the internet is also a great source of information.”

Bruss said contributors have the choice of making a one-time cash donation or having an allotment taken out of their paychecks.

“All you have to do is choose which charity you want to give your money to and fill out the form. You can give as little as $1 if you want,” Bruss said.

Bruss added that it is usually not hard to choose a charity to donate to because most people can relate to one or more charities in some way or another.
“There are thousands of charities to choose from and many relate to (most individuals),” said Bruss. “I can open the booklet to a page and at least a few of them can relate to me.”
For more information about the CFC, visit the campaign’s Web site at www.opm.gov/CFC or contact your unit’s campaign key worker.

Marines continue drawing down in al Anbar



Story and photos by Cpl. Chris T. Mann
FALLUJAH, Iraq – Marines with 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, handed over control of several forward operating bases and combat outposts in the city of Fallujah, Iraq, to Iraqi Security Forces Jan. 1.

The turnover is concurrent with U.S. plans to begin drawing down forces in Iraq throughout the next three years.

During a media round table at the Pentagon Briefing Room in Arlington, Va., December 2, 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said service members should be out of populated areas in the country by the end of June 2009.

“We will confront or have a different kind of situation, in Iraq, at the end of June 2009 than we would have thought perhaps in June of 2008,” he said at the meeting. “And I think that the commanders are already looking at what the implications of that are, in terms of the potential for accelerating the drawdown and in terms of how we meet our obligations to the Iraqis.”

1st Battalion, 4th Marines, is among several battalions in al Anbar leading the way to tear down, demilitarize or turn over bases and outposts to Iraqi Security Forces.

The battalion has consolidated its forces into centralized locations and is currently only keeping a small number of its forces in the city.

Lt. Col. Chris Hastings, the battalion’s commanding officer, said his Marines will continue to maintain a presence in their area of operations, but they are minimizing their movements through the cities.

Marines conducting security patrols in Fallujah have already started minimizing their presence, and new considerations have been put in place for travel and daily routines in other cities, Hastings said.

Iraqi Security Forces has the lead on security and protecting the citizens living in Fallujah, and they conduct their own security operations without the aid of Coalition forces, he said.

“This is just one more step that we have taken towards seeing a sovereign, democratic and free Iraq,” said Hastings. “I have seen what the ISF are capable of doing, and I know that they will continue to do great things as they conduct their own operations, search for weapons caches and continue following the rule of law.”

Hastings said his Marines are continuing readiness training and remain on the alert in the event that their help is requested by ISF.

“We will be ready to respond to incidents should they occur and also when we are requested for support,” said Hastings.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A different approach to healthcare



Photos and story by Lance Cpl. Achilles Tsantarliotis



KARMAH, Iraq (December 27, 2008) – Marines and sailors with Task Force 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, conducted a “health fair” combined medical engagement in the Sitcher area of Karmah, Iraq, Dec. 27.

Roughly 300 Karmah citizens attended the CME to learn basic, preventive healthcare.

Navy Lt. Richard Ellis, the 33-year-old battalion surgeon from Panama City, with 1st Bn., 3rd Marines, said CMEs traditionally facilitated engagements between Iraqi physicians and people without healthcare capabilities and to distribute basic medications to people in need.

As Iraq increases its local healthcare capabilities, service members have begun to focus their efforts toward educating the local populace.

“No matter how many physicians or clinics Karmah has, we need to educate the people in order for long term success,” Ellis said. “When we gave them medicine, there was no real, long-term benefit. The new approach to [CMEs] is a grassroots effort in the most preventive level of healthcare. It’s going to help overall healthcare in Karmah drastically.”

During the CME, service members demonstrated how to effectively combat the spread of easily avoidable common illnesses and methods to improve Iraqis’ overall well-being. They also stressed the importance of avoiding explosives, wild animals and polluted water supplies.


Focusing on basic preventive healthcare advances Iraq’s medical system by reducing avoidable illnesses and it promotes a more efficient healthcare service in the area, said Ellis.


Service members are hoping their new focus of educating Karmah’s citizens in preventive medicine will broaden the medical system by preventing unnecessary hospital visits, simultaneously reducing strain on local health clinics in Iraq as it becomes increasingly capable of providing for its citizens.


A contributing factor in Karmah’s overall development is proper healthcare, said Lt. Jacob Gray, a 26-year-old operations officer from Essex, Vt., with Company C, 1st Bn., 3rd Marines.

“We’re trying to teach them how to become self-sufficient – vice just giving them the goods,” Gray said. “It’s a necessity for a country to grow economically and improve overall quality of life.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Iraqi police respond to Fallujah attack






Story and photos by Cpl. Chris T. Mann


FALLUJAH, Iraq – Iraqi Police in Karmah demonstrated their ability to take charge of a crime scene after a suicide bomber attacked citizens and policemen on a local highway in Fallujah, Iraq, Dec. 28.


Maj. Yessien, assistant police commander for the Karmah police station, said policemen were quick to provide casualty evacuation and security at the scene. The policemen stopped all traffic on the highway and set up a cordon while they searched the area for additional suspects and explosive devices.


The attacker was driving a compact car with an unknown amount of explosives inside the vehicle and detonated the bomb beside police vehicles located near an entry control point.


“We have determined that the vehicle being driven was reported stolen, and we are investigating what happened here,” said Yessien. “We have also determined that the attacker was a known terrorist. If there are others behind these attacks, we will catch them.”


Marines with Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, arrived to provide assistance after police had initially cleared the scene.


“Overall, the Iraqi police were able to evacuate and secure the scene, and bring in the necessary equipment to clean up the road within an hour,” said 1st Lt. William R. VanCise, the platoon commander for Scout Sniper Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, RCT-1. “For the most part they had the scene under control, cleaned up, and were ready to move on by the time we arrived.”


Yessien said the attacker was possibly targeting a police patrol when he steered his vehicle in their general direction.


Officials have not yet determined a motive behind the attack and are calling it an isolated incident. Iraqi Security Forces are continuing the investigation.


“I think the overall gist is that the Iraqis are capable of conducting their own (operations), and from here on out we’re in the supporting role and will be utilized when they call for us or if the situation seems overwhelming,” said VanCise.

Making the switch



Story by Cpl. Chris T. Mann
FALLUJAH, Iraq – Field wiremen with Communications Technical Control Facility Detachment, a joint unit made up of Marines from Regimental Combat Team 1 and 9th Communications Battalion, set up a new multifaceted digital switch on Camp Baharia, recently.

The new switch was part of a larger scale commercialization project to enable personnel aboard the camp with improved Defense Switched Networking, which provides worldwide non-secure voice, secure voice, and facsimile services for the DOD.

Staff Sgt. Jarris D. Mayfield, the detachment’s communications chief from High Point, N.C., said he and other Marines with the detachment spent months coordinating with other communication elements and adjacent units across a large area of operations to make the switch as seamless as possible.

The Marines’ efforts helped to provide a successful migration to the new switch from a smaller, less capable one to support the growing number of personnel on the camp.

Service members from nearby Camp Fallujah and others serving throughout the city relocated here as part of Coalition forces’ plan to reposition into strategic overwatch. The number of service members living on the camp has more than doubled from the approximately 1200 living here prior to the move.

Because of their coordination efforts, it “took only a total of three hours to reestablish communication between units across the entire AO and have all users fully operational,” said Mayfield.

“The (short) amount of time that it took us to install the new switch is completely unheard of, and wouldn’t have been possible without all the hard work and dedication that our Marines put into the project,” he said.

During the months leading up to the migration, the Marines worked two shifts to run nearly 60,000 feet of new communication wire and test termination points around the camp.

“The process was very time consuming, to test all the circuits on the switch, and our office sounded like it was receiving phone calls all day long,” said Cpl. Michael J. Ruiz, a 25-year-old switchboard operator from Cuero, Texas, with the detachment.

After installing the new switch, the wiremen assigned new telephone numbers to all of the camp’s existing phones lines and installed new lines where they were needed.
“Commercialized switching is a fairly new thing for the Marine Corps, and everyone here worked really hard to get this thing set up,” said Ruiz.

The Camp Baharia Communications Technical Control Facility is the first successful Joint System Control Site at the regimental and battalion level. With a joining effort between Marines from 9th Communication Bn. and RCT-1, this hybrid team supports commercialized capabilities for Camp Baharia and a majority of RCT-1’s area of operations.