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Marines make big steps in small town

Marine Corps News

Release Date: 5/02/2004

Story by Lance Cpl. Macario P. Mora Jr.

JURY JIBB, Iraq(April 29, 2004) -- The Marines walking the streets called the patrol "routine," but hunting terrorists and building relationships in Iraq's small towns is turning out to be the most important mission of all.

A patrol of nearly 20 Marines from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment's Weapons Company scoured the streets of Jury Jibb, a small village near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

It's part of an effort among Marines here to move among the smaller towns as much as the bigger cities. Marines are keeping the terrorists on the run and don't want them to find refuge in the villages beyond city limits.

They used the patrol to familiarize themselves with locals, pass out school supplies and search for insurgents and weapons caches.

"It's important to get to know the people," said Cpl. Kristopher Benson, section leader for Weapons Company from Columbus, Ohio. "We need them to realize we're here to help them, not just harass them with (vehicle check points), house raids and firefights."

Many Iraqis in the region are frightened by the Marines because of the shooting, according to the town's head sheik. Benson and the sheik sat down and spoke at great length. They discussed many town concerns and ways to improve on relationships.

"I spoke to the sheik and he expressed many of the same concerns the others complained about," Benson explained. "The poor water quality, being harassed by Marines and slow progress with promised projects" were some of the concerns.

But not all was wrong in the village. There were signs that things are getting better around Al Qaim.

"As we walked the streets we saw them rebuilding a school, putting up a phone tower and digging ditches for water lines," Benson said. "So, apparently some things are taking place there."

Marines chose to walk through the town instead of riding in their vehicles. The face-to-face interaction with the locals, they said, helps them to gain a greater connection to the Iraqis and earns their trust.

"We go on a lot of patrols, but normally they're mechanized," said Pfc. John G. Hucko, a mortarman from Buena Park, Calif. "This helps us meet the people better. It adds a little more excitement to our everyday lives."

Along the way local children crowded them waving and giving a thumbs up while the Marines passed out pencils donated to the company by one Marine's mother.

"At first my mom was just going to send me some stuff," said Cpl. John A. Brandon, assistant patrol leader from Corpus Christi, Texas. "I noticed a lot of these kids didn't have much, so I asked my mother to send me stuff. Then all of the sudden my mother's whole law firm got involved and started sending boxes of school supplies. So each time we go out I go through the boxes and give the Marines supplies to hand out."

Many of the Marines feel strongly about what they're doing for the community. Knowing full well the power they have in changing lives of many locals in the area.

"The kids are the ones really suffering out here," said Pfc. Joshua Mitchell, a mortarman from Indianapolis. "We want them to know that we do care. And by doing this we just may find some intelligence to help us in the future, because the children are the ones who help us the most."

The mission was fairly routine, but each day brings more progress.

"This is a basic presence patrol," Brandon said. "We just want to show the terrorist that we're here to stay. They won't come out and fight us one-on-one, because they know they'll lose. But, whenever they feel the need, we're here."

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