CAMP RIPPER, AL ASAD, Iraq - -- After months of pre-deployment training and preparation, Regimental Combat Team 2 “took the fight” from RCT-7 in a transfer of authority (TOA) ceremony here.
TOA is part of a regularly scheduled change of command that occurs yearly in Al Anbar Province.
“RCT-7 did a tremendous job,” said Col. H. Stacy Clardy III, RCT-2’s commanding officer. “If we can be half as successful as they were, our time out here will be well worth the effort.”
RCT-2 will be responsible for the western region of Al Anbar. It stretches from just west of the Euphrates River to the Jordanian and Syrian borders, a span of more than 30,000 square miles.
This will be the third time in five years the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2003, as part of task force Tarawa, RCT-2 was involved in the initial push towards Baghdad. In 2005, RCT-2 participated in Operation Steel Curtain, the largest counterinsurgency operation to- date in western Al Anbar Province.
“RCT-2’s role in Operation Steel Curtain gave us a good foundation to build upon,” said Col. W. Blake Crowe, RCT-7’s commanding officer. “Capitalizing on their success, we recruited more than 1,500 (Iraqi Police) in the Al Qa’im region alone.”
Approximately 1,000 Iraqi Army soldiers and 2,500 Marines, Soldiers and Sailors took part in Operation Steel Curtain. The 18-day offensive aimed to restore order throughout the Al Qa’im region, an area along the Syrian border. When all was said and done, more than 250 insurgents were either captured or killed.
During their year in command, RCT-7’s primary mission was to support the development of Iraqi security forces within the AO, according to Crowe.
“When we took command last February, there wasn’t a single Iraqi policeman in western Al Anbar,” Crowe said recently during Pentagon Press Corps news brief. “But I’m proud to announce that as of today, there are more than 3,000 in AO Denver alone.”
Crowe attributes this success to gaining the confidence of local communities throughout the AO.
“It’s a trust game out here,” Crowe explained. “The tribal leadership has finally begun to throw its weight to the coalition forces. They’re starting to recognize that we’re not the enemy; we’re here to help.”
RCT-2’s job will be to keep the momentum going and maintain that good, working relationship with the Iraqi people.
“We need to engage and get to know them,” Clardy said. “This will require interaction down on the local level; hearing their concerns and listening to their ideas. With their help, we can continue to develop more Iraqi security forces.”
Another key to success in western Al Anbar, according to Clardy, hinges on something all Marines are taught from day one of basic training – leading from the front.
“As Americans, we’re showing the Iraqis how a free and democratic society lives,” Clardy said. “But as Marines, we need to set the example. How we conduct ourselves out here is a direct reflection upon the United States and its citizens.”
President George W. Bush recently announced an increase in American forces within the Al Anbar Province by 4,000 troops. In Crowe’s opinion, the president’s new strategy is right on target.
RCT-2’s area of operations is roughly the size of South Carolina, a state occupied by about 4.25 million U.S. citizens. According to the state’s criminal justice academy, their police force numbers more than 11,300.
In comparison, western Al Anbar currently has a population of approximately 400,000 people. But the number of IP’s in the area is less than 3,500.
“There’s more police in South Carolina than IP’s here; and they’re not fighting a war,” Crowe said. “With additional forces headed this way, I’m very optimistic about what RCT-2 can accomplish this next year. More troops can only hasten the pace of success here.”
As the Marines of RCT-7 head back to their home base of Twentynine Palms, Calif., the Marines of RCT-2 take their posts and carry out the plan of the day.
“What we’re doing out here is a lot like smash-mouth football,” Crowe said. “It’s not sexy, but it’s very effective. The enemy is on the run, and we’ve got a moral obligation to see this thing through. We must stay committed to the people of Iraq.”
“This mission is an important one,” Clardy said. “I’m confident that the Marines of RCT-2 are up for the challenge. We’re ready to take the fight.”