FALLUJAH, Iraq --
Marines stopped and knocked at a courtyard gate. A little girl answered the door with an anxious look on her face.
“Is the man of the house in?” asked Sgt. Ysac M. Perez, a squad leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 6.
As if on cue, a little seven-year-old boy appeared and owned up to the title. The Marines greeted him with smiles and laughter. This scenario is not unusual, however, said Perez.
“This is actually pretty common while the father is gone,” said Perez, a Whittier, Calif., native. “He was considered the man of the house since his dad was gone, which trips me out because back in the States, a seven year old wouldn’t even be allowed to answer the door, and here he is, the one in charge.”
The days of kicking in doors and forcibly searching buildings and homes are long over for the Marines in the city of Fallujah as it transitions back to a peaceful community. Instead, Marines knock at the doors and greet the people with a professional and sociable demeanor with cultural courtesies in mind. It is a job many of these Marines never imagined they would be tasked with in a city known for its history as a violent epicenter of Anbar Province.
Perez and his Marines with 4th platoon, Co. K, patrolled their neighborhood and gathered census information to develop a clearer insight into the area, its people and their concerns.
Along the way, during the patrol, Perez chose the upscale home to stop and visit. He wanted to speak with the residents to check on how things were going, as a friendly neighbor would do.
The boy said his father was away at prayer and the mother was out tending to daily errands. For Perez this was a sign the family felt secure enough to attend local mosques and shop in a now-bustling market place.
Perez asked the boy for permission for his Marines to go to the rooftop to overlook the area from above. The boy took a look around at the Marines and their weapons, and with a smile, decided to allow them in.
As the Marines slowly walked through, they subtly scanned the rooms as an informal search while they made their way to the rooftop. Perez ensured his Marines were careful not to encroach on the family’s privacy.
“My Marines know what rooms not to go into and stay out of, like the prayer rooms with mats and the rooms the females are in,” Perez said.
Perez, having children of his own, wondered what the Iraqi children hope for in the future.
“Personally, I like to try to see what their outlook is toward us and what their dreams are compared to the children in America, who dream of being crazy things like rock stars and all,” Perez said. “From what I have got so far, they aim pretty high. A lot of them want to be doctors, physicians and engineers. Some of them may get the chance.”
When Perez asked the child how big the family was, and all the children’s ages, he came to the realization the family had been growing at a rate of roughly one child every year.
As the Marines started to descend the three-story house to leave, the father returned home from prayer.
When asked if he minded the Marines being there, he responded by saying they were more than welcome to be in his house. He thanked the Marines for being there and commented on how well the Iraqi Police are coming along.
To the Marines’ cultural interest, the father kept up two families. At the household the Marines were currently visiting, he had a wife and seven children. In his other household in a neighborhood not far away, he had his second wife, four children, mother and mother-in-law. He supported the family by selling fish in the market.
“He seemed like a real upkept guy,” Perez said. “He was a very family-oriented man. He didn’t care about what was going on in the outside world. All he worried about was his own family.”
What was unique about this man to Perez was the man was wealthy by Fallujah standards, yet remained more focused on the smaller issues within his family than trying to have any influence on the developing world around him.
“Fallujah is very good. I don’t worry about the poverty. I don’t care about the war and insurgents. I care about providing food and shelter for my family,” the man told Perez.
During the fighting for the city, the man said he had left the city, but had not traveled far to live in a small town outside of Fallujah. He returned home and found his property had been damaged. Two of his bedrooms had been completely burned.
He didn’t know who was responsible, and did not seem interested in finding out. Since his return, the highways had become safe enough for commercial trucks to travel from Baghdad to deliver his fish to the market. The man made enough money from his business to go on with his life and make the necessary repairs to his homes with his own money.
For the man it was a normal visit. He said he speaks with the Marines frequently and continually understands more about what is going on. His only complaint was about the unreliable power sources in the city. He said he rather see money be spent on correcting the power failure problems than anything else. The Marines reassured him the problem was being worked on.
It was a brief visit for the Marines with a family they will now know a little better. The Marines will continue communicating with the locals, getting to know them better and, ultimately, ensuring the people’s safety and their own through the means of pleasant, everyday interactions.