Story by Cpl. Chadwick deBree
For the past couple of weeks, Marines like Lance Cpl. Matthew Lembke, squad leader, 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Co. E, 2/3, have been studying the area, taking notes on certain places and things throughout the city. He mentioned how he and others want to get out and learn as much as possible, and be able to introduce themselves to the locals.
During one of the Marines’ routine patrols Feb. 21., they started off with a visit to a local brick factory where the workers welcomed the Marines with handshakes and smiles.
“When I was talking to the manager he told me that he likes it when the Marines come through because he knows that they are safe when we are there,” Lembke, a 21-year-old native of Tualatin, Ore., said. “So I told him that we are going to make sure that we stop by often just to see how they’re doing and if they need anything that we could help them with.”
The Marines then headed to the local school to find out when it opened for its next semester. When they got there, one of the teachers gave them a tour of the school to show the Marines the condition of the building.
“The school had a lot of structural damage to it,” Lembke said. “There were big cracks along the walls and they said they can’t fix it because they don’t have any money. I’m going to bring it up to see if I could get some help for them. See what our company or battalion could do to help them because there aren’t a lot of schools around here.”
While walking down the streets, the Marines who deployed to the Al Anbar Province last year noticed something different this time around.
“Our last deployment was a lot more kinetic,” said Lance Cpl. Brendan Houlahan, 1st team leader, 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Co. E, 2/3. “Last year, every time we left the wire it was almost guaranteed that we were going to get shot at or have an (improvised explosive device) go off. It’s almost like we have to change gears from last year, but we just can’t get complacent. We still have to be on our toes and be on the look out because there are still some bad people out there.”
Lembke shared similar thoughts about this deployment to Iraq compared to his last.
“The last deployment was a kinetic fight where something was happening constantly,” he said. “Here it almost seems like we’re on a peace keeping operation. The area seems to be at the point where it’s starting to rebuild. This country, especially the Al Anbar area, has made some great leaps and bounds. But there are still some bad guys out there, and that’s what we’re here for, to get them and protect the rest of the population.”
Though the Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans feel the area has calmed down, the new Marines are eager to help rebuild the nation.
“This is a good experience,” said Lance Cpl. Ronald H. Enos, squad automatic weapon gunner, 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Co. E, 2/3. “This is why I became a grunt… to travel around the world and help protect people.”
“They told us it would be a lot different from what they experienced,” the 20-year-old native of Sacaton, Ariz., continued to say about Iraq. “It may be different from what the other guys experienced, but I’m still going to go out there on patrol and keep an eye out for my fellow Marines.”
Houlahan, a 20-year-old native of Monroe, N.Y., said that the new Marines are doing very well for their first deployment.
“They’re doing the best they can and really stepping up to do their job,” he said. “They’re evolving into great Marines and it has a lot to do with the training and leadership they have experienced.”
Lembke also praised how well his Marines are handling their first combat deployment.
“For those of us who have deployed here before it’s just a new (area of operation),” Lembke said. “They’re really using the training that they received and are getting better. Everyone is acting real professional while they’re outside the wire and while interacting with the Iraqi civilians, which is exactly what the Marine Corps wants them to do.”