FALLUJAH, Iraq (June 12, 2007) — Marines and Sailors with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, and Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, both with Multi-National Forces-West, recently completed the first phase of “Operation Alljah” in the city of Fallujah.
The mission of Operation Alljah is to provide stability and protection for the citizens of Fallujah. For this iteration of the operation, Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group Forward, emplaced concrete barriers to section the city into precincts; leathernecks with 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6, worked with the Iraqi Police and Army to set up operational stations. At these stations, Iraqi civilians can come in to receive identification cards, food, reimbursements and a chance to join the neighborhood watch program.
The operation is similar to what another unit did in the city of Ramadi,” said Maj. George S. Benson, executive officer of 2/6. “We’re capitalizing on the success of Ramadi and using many of the same techniques.”
“It’s great in theory and it’s bold. Hopefully this will give that last little bit of pressure onto the local population to go ahead and take charge,” admitted 1st. Lt. Justin Hunter, commander of 4th Platoon, C Company, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, attached to 2/6.
“I was waiting for this opportunity,” said Col. Faisal, Police Chief of Fallujah. “This is one of the successful steps we have made because it (gives) security and protection in this area for the citizens of Fallujah.”
Alljah is a complex plan with many moving parts. The first of these parts to kick into motion were Hunter’s engineers. Once arriving at their destination, an abandoned school, combat engineers immediately began laying the groundwork for the first step: fortification of an abandoned school. This concrete compound would ultimately serve as the headquarters during the beginning phase of Operation Alljah.
“Operation Alljah is our chance of giving a small sliver of pie to the local population,” Hunter said. “Instead of owning or trying to take care of the entire city themselves, we give them a small district. It’s prompting them to take charge of their own city.”
The logistically-heavy combat engineers unloaded a mountain of sandbags and numerous bunkers, which were constructed days before the operation kicked off, to be placed on the roof of the school.
“We worked through the night,” said Hunter, after he and his Marines unloaded, carried and placed hundreds of sandbags throughout the abandoned school-turned-headquarters for the operation. “We are providing force protection and trying to build up as much as we can overnight so in the morning, when everything’s done, the insurgents will wake up, look around and not really have a chance to engage the (Iraqi Police) or Iraqi Army.”
Working side-by-side, Marines with F Company , 2/6, and Iraqi Army soldiers patrol and monitor the area surrounding their newly fortified compound.
“Our job is to (help) the Iraqis control the area,” said Mechanicsville, Md., native Lance Cpl. Jordan P. Bremm, a rifleman and assistant gunner in F Company. In the street near Bremm’s entry control point, many Iraqi civilians gathered around a downed power pole. While keeping an eye on the growing collection of civilians, Bremm added, “This pole came down in the middle of the night taking a lot of power with it. They are all out here trying to fix it.”
While the entrances were under the scrutinizing eyes of Marines with F Company, hundreds of Iraqi civilians, who have been searched for suspicious materials and weapons, lined up along the walls inside the compound and patiently waited to take advantages of the many services being offered at the new precinct headquarters: claims for damages, identification cards, food distribution, neighborhood watch recruitment, and hundreds of people came to inquire about joining the Iraqi police.
“We’re doing minimal physical screening to make sure these guys are not grossly ill,” said Navy Lt. Matt A. Swain, the 2/6 battalion surgeon. “What we’re doing is setting up a screening to see if they can be an IP. If they need actual care for something, we refer them to their Iraqi health care infrastructure.”
Along with the medical screening, the Iraqis went through a methodical identification process that included retina scans and fingerprinting.
“Once this information is gathered, we enter it into our (Biometrics Automated Toolset) system,” said Sgt. Mark A. Taggart, BAT system noncommissioned officer-in-charge with 2/6. “If they do have an (identification) card with them, we’ll do a quick scan to check and see if they are already enrolled in our computer system. We’ll update any information we can and if they have an expired card or don’t have one at all, we’ll give them a new one. Basically everyone gets an ID card that comes in here.”
Iraqis with I.D. cards can use them to move more quickly through entry control points that are located in many places within the city.
“When they hand us their cards, we can look in the system and figure out who they are and whether they have connections with known individuals involved in any circles of insurgency,” Taggart said. “In the end, we are trying to make life easier for everyone. Iraqis just want to get on with their lives. We’re here to make sure it happens.”
Several local nationals also sought out the Marines who could help them with monetary reimbursements for damages caused by Coalition Forces operating within the city.
“If US forces damage particular personal property then individuals are authorized to come in,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Doug Hoelscher, the Camp Fallujah disbursing officer with CLB-6. “An amount is then determined and disbursers from various detachments, either embedded with them or are out with the unit, reimburse the individuals for the damage we created.”
Damages such as kicked-in doors or knocked out windows were common situations when the Marines were approached with claims.
“It’s not meant to be dollar-to-dollar reimbursement for the damage they sustained,” said Capt. John A. Schwab, a Marine lawyer with 2/6. “This is our offering of sympathy for what happens. It’s not an admission of guilt that we did anything wrong. We are basically saying we’re sorry for what happened and we’re sympathetic for the damage that was sustained and we’re willing to reimburse (a certain) amount for that damage.”
Throughout the operation, security at both the entry points and rooftop provide ample security for the individuals inside, however, it didn’t stop the insurgency from attempting to disrupt the operation. Small-arms fire and frequent other attacks on the compound were routinely heard throughout the mission.
“Better get your gear on,” said Master Sgt. Lorenzo Jones, the communications chief for 2/6, after an explosion detonated; vibrating the walls, ceasing all conversation within the building and henceforth causing Marines to focus on the safety of everyone inside and out of the building.
No Marines were injured in the duration of the small attacks, however, the steady sounds of small arms fire proved a grave reminder that Fallujah is not a city to be taken for granted.
Hunkered down behind a cement wall, one Iraqi Soldier, Naem Salim Chali, smiles and explains that this kind of situation is normal. He continues to say that hostility from insurgents is decreasing extensively all the time. “It’s actually safer here now,” he said. “When the bad guys see the Marines coming, they always run.”By Cpl. Joel Abshier, Regimental Combat Team 6