NEAR KARMAH, Iraq --
It’s a typical Tuesday morning in Al Anbar Province. The brutal hum of an armored vehicle drowns out distant explosions and dogs are rummaging through trash on the street while Company L Marines wash dust from their eyes and gear up for a hot day of operations. Strangely, the deep laughter of Iraqi men echoes throughout the patrol base - it sounds like a gathering of old friends. Within the sandbagged walls, a young officer is having an informal meeting.
Second Lt. Phillip Peacock, Lima Company’s 2nd platoon commander, has his arms stretched out and he is telling a fishing story to three middle-aged men.
“Sadic, shlonic?” (What’s up my friend?) he asked in Arabic to the quiet one.
The men erupt and pat each other on the back.
To an outsider, the conversation doesn’t seem to make sense. To the group, it’s a hilarious inside joke.
“It’s like a small town here,” Peacock said. Contagiously, the Marines around the group are laughing too.
For Peacock and the Marines of second platoon, the cheerful morning meeting is a “small victory,” one of many in recent history that are causing a tidal wave of success in the 3/1’s area of operations. The three men from the Ministry of Water Resources have come to discuss surveying a nearby dam. The platoon welcomes these frequent, unplanned meetings with open arms, and local Iraqis come from miles around to speak directly with Peacock and his Marines.
“It’s all about the small victories right now,” Peacock stated. “Just the other day, we cleared a culvert of brush so a family could have water. Our young Marines were out there with the family, sweating and working. That’s something the Iraqis are going to remember for the rest of their lives.”
“During a large, planned project, there’s a lot of ‘maybes’ and funding issues, and they might not happen at all. But, everything is word-of-mouth out here, and when you do these small projects, it carries everywhere,” he said.
Another such small project was completed recently when a local boy broke his leg. A platoon corpsman assessed the injury while Marines talked the boy through the pain with soccer anecdotes. After being treated, the boy and his family left the base smiling.
Peacock said these small projects are generally not planned in advance. They don’t require long written orders or big-budget financing. The secret to small counterinsurgency victories, said Peacock, is humanity.
“Marines look like robots in all of our gear,” he said. “When Iraqis come here and see that underneath all this we’re actually humans, it’s like we’re fighting a totally different war.”
Personal safety always takes priority within the platoon. However, down-time, when Marines aren’t required to wear heavy armor, is usually when the impromptu visits take place.
The meeting continued, and the men tell Peacock about a tribal Sheikh whose home was attacked by mortars, killing a young girl. Then, a suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession. Peacock listened intently as the men recount a handful of recent terror incidents against Iraqi civilians.
“If the American people could hear this, who wouldn’t support our presence?” questioned Peacock.
“I mean, here, to be successful, you have to be an advocate for peace,” Peacock said. “There’s this fabrication of a culture gap that’s so far from what is actually going on. I mean, think about what everyone misses from back home, family barbecues, fishing trips- we do this same stuff in America that they do in Iraq, but all we know is what we see on (television network news). There is a definite human pulse to counterinsurgency operations, and we can feel it.”
Peacock said identifying the troubles among local people can be as simple as seeing them through humane eyes.
“We know if there’s a problem with the water flow here. Why? We can see it in their faces. We know when the roadblocks are getting them down because we recognize their body language,” he said.
A good chunk of the Marines in second platoon are familiar with the deep humanity involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“A lot of my guys are on their third deployment,” Peacock said, “and they’ve seen every aspect of war. They know how to conduct (counterinsurgency) operations. They see the human reaction to the small projects, and they understand the situation here better than anyone.”
Although Peacock is experiencing his first deployment, he said he understands why success comes with difficulty, especially from the far reaches of command desks at large coalition bases.
“Being in Iraq’ is not enough to understand the people,” he said. “Living with the people and having cultural experiences with shared feelings, that’s what you need. My Marines realize that.”
Apparently, the local populace buys the argument as well. During a previous meeting, one man expressed his gratitude to Marines while enjoying evening tea with a group.
“All of the cooperation from the people here is because of the way Peacock and his Marines are working,” said the man, who pronounces “Peacock” with an affectionate broken-English dignity. “The way people here react to the Marines, it’s different. People come from all around because they have heard about (these) Marines,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Why the positive reaction though?
“It’s all about cooperation and respect. We get that from these Marines. This is what we want. I think of Peacock like a brother.”
As 2nd Platoon continues operations here, it’s a sure bet their success can be accredited to the human touch. Soon, they will pass the torch to already in-place Iraqi Army forces, and Peacock is setting them up for a smooth transition. Addressing one of the Iraqi platoon commanders, Peacock began, “I’m the biggest Iraqi soccer fan … ever.”
For more information on the operational success of Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and the warriors of the Fighting 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, visit the Unit’s Web site athttp://www.usmc.mil/13thmeu.