I've just returned from a two week tour of the Wild West, as they like to call the area around Haditha, Iraq. Marines of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment are tasked with securing this important river town just down the Euphrates River from Haditha Dam. Haditha has been a hotbed of insurgent activity in the past. Over the last two weeks the Marines have put a serious dent in the influence of the insurgency. Multiple weapons caches have been found, dozens upon dozens of IEDs discovered and blown in place, and many "bad guys" rounded up. I spent my time going out on a variety of patrols, primarily with Kilo Company's 1st and 3rd Platoons.
I got to know some great young Marines like LCpl Jackie Tran, LCpl Andrew Wright, Cpl Jose Sanchez, LCpl Rene Rodriguez, Cpl Sanick Dela Cruz to name a few. I watched these young men patrol hour after hour weighed down with 40 plus pounds of gear and weapons in the hot dusty streets and palm groves of Haditha. Their unwashed uniforms are stiff with weeks of sweat and dirt. Many a time I watched LCpl Wright, an adopted Korean Marine from Novato, California, running hunched over from the additional burden of a radio to his squad leader's position with a look of grim determination on his face. His squad leader, Cpl Sanchez, is the complete professional, despite the friendly grin usually spread across his face. He earned a Bronze Star with a Combat "V" last year during the fighting in Fallujah. The grim determination, discipline and endurance of these young men is incredible.