March 18, 2005

The Horizon

Emphases mine.

Dear Dad -

Last night was my last spent in the city of Fallujah (at least for this tour). We came out of the city today and are back on our base. Our replacements have arrived and we are now waiting to rotate home.

Today was a perfect example of how far we have come on the backs of the incredible young Marines, Soldiers and Sailors who have been a part of the Regiment since we arrived in February 2004.

By mid-morning, we were sitting in a meeting with the local imams. The senior imam or "mufti" brings other important imams in a few times a month and we discuss ongoing issues inside the city. The imam meeting is in addition to various reconstruction meetings with contractors and bureaucrats as well as the perpetual development of the Iraqi security forces. What is unique about the imam meeting is that like so many other things happening now, the meeting itself would have been beyond impossible as recently as October. Now the imams request the meeting and sit down with us in order to reduce friction and work toward improving the quality of life of the Fallujahns.

As recently as October, we sat outside the city in day long battles. Over the inevitable din, you could hear cries for jihad and resistance resonating through the loudspeakers of the city's 60+ mosques. Certainly from the Marine point of view, the mosques were thought of as facilitators of the terrorists and a key ingredient in stoking the spiral of violence that consumed the city for much of the past thirteen months and beyond. Today we sat with some of the same men who controlled the speakers and discussed ways to get ambulances into the city faster and enhancing understanding among the variety of cultures that now make up the daily life in the city.

As we drove out of Fallujah, we went to visit one of the Public Order Battalions. These battalions were formed by the Iraqi government just before and during the battle of Fallujah known here as AL FAJR (New Dawn/Beginning). They showed up in December, following the battle. When they arrived, it was the typical mess that unfortunately what we came to expect of the Iraqi Security Forces - no meaningful training, poorly equipped, no real discipline and corresponding low morale. Now these same young Iraqi men are grouped together with other units and called "the heroes of Fallujah" by the people.

I cannot tell you how many nights in December and January we laid there in our bags and practically counted down to the night's phantom firefights that would get these soldiers going. Thousands of rounds would be fired into the night while their Marine liaisons ran between positions trying to get them to calm down. As soon as one unit would get under control, a new unit would start up and get them all going again. This would often go on for hours. If not for the tracers zipping through the night, it would have been tragically comical. Like all of the other problems we have seen here this year, it was solved by the tireless work of the Sergeants and Captains and their Marines. Nightly lessons and relentless correction and training have now made the POB a credible force. I think the Iraqi Army units with us are even better.

As I have said before, Fallujah is now thought of as a "safe zone" by the citizens. The atmosphere of fear and intimidation is now lifted. People move about during the day without fear. The curfew remains at night and frankly, that is just fine with the people. Iraqis outside the city talk of how safe they feel when they come to Fallujah. Talk about a truly incredible turnaround.

Last night we went up to the roof of the building where we stay and looked out over the city. Many lights are back on and more come on each night. It was quiet as could be. Perhaps the best description I can offer is "peaceful." There is no doubt that the muj will continue bring episodes of violence and terror to Fallujah. It is inevitable but they cannot undo the hope that is growing inside the people that things are getting better.

While the men have been working inside the city, other Marines have been relentlessly chasing and attriting the enemy outside the city. We have had more success capturing high value targets in the last week than perhaps during any other during my 22 months here. Once again, the Marines continue to exceed expectation. Instead of coasting in and playing it safe, they are pouring on the coal and finishing strong. The result has been a number of indicators of insurgent leadership seeking to open a dialogue with the Iraqi Government. Again, not to put too rosy a picture on it but it really is encouraging to the guys who have been here grinding away. The bad news for the enemy is that fresh legs are here and it is about to get worse for them.

I wanted to finish with a story of another young person who has exemplified the kind of support we have enjoyed over here. Her name is Amy and she is from St. Louis, Missouri. Not long before November's battle, we received a number of large boxes. Amy had a birthday party and instead of receiving gifts, she asked her friends to bring toys for the Iraqi children. They did and then mailed them all to us to deliver. By the time, we received them; we had received the warning order to liberate Fallujah. I stored them when we left for the city. When we came out at the end of November to clean up, the Marines loaded the vehicles with the boxes and headed back to town.

As the children returned, the city had been severely damaged. The Marines had also been through quite a bit. However, during the Christmas season, the Marines were able to hand out toys to the children. It was great for all.

This vignette has been repeated hundreds of times by the support that we receive regularly. Most all of the packages we have received have been turned around quickly and found their way into the hands of people who appreciate them. I wish I had time to personally thank every one who sent something but frankly, I would have done nothing else.

In closing, I want you to know that we feel the support from the American people and the American people have it right. Lives are changing here. It is not a struggle for the meek but the young men and women serving here as well as the Iraqi people are up for it. The days ahead will continue to be a tough pull but the progress is measurable.

With no false modesty, our replacements look like they are going to do even better than our guys. The newly arrived Marines are very well trained, fresh and eager.

Attached is a photo taken by a good friend of mine. Now at the end of the deployment, it is clear that this is why we are here. I will be home before long.




This letter can be found on the website Lt. Col. Bellon's family maintains: The Green Side.

Posted by Rae at March 18, 2005 10:18 PM | TrackBack

Oh what a wave of relief I felt as I read this - thank you for sharing it.

Posted by: GrumpyBunny at March 17, 2005 08:03 AM

Great piece, added to my To Be Linked list

Posted by: jeff at March 17, 2005 10:17 AM

GB- you're welcome.

Jeff- good. You have infinitely more readers than I and the more people that read this, the better.

Did you notice "I'll see you soon"? I think that the Lt. Col. will be coming home soon.

Posted by: Rae at March 17, 2005 10:45 AM

Haven't figured out my "permalink" yet - glad you have it though. And, my readership is much less than yours or Jeff's - but I followed and linked also (URL in form box) Thanks for a good read. :)

Posted by: chrys at March 17, 2005 05:46 PM
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