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Task Force Tarawa Marines aid Iraqi Freedom Force in reclaiming town


Story Identification Number: 20034109350
Story by Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

AD DIWANIYAH, Iraq (Apr. 8, 2003) -- With the fight north in Baghdad, it is easy to forget that many small cities and towns south of the capital city are still under the control of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party forces.

Yesterday the citizens here learned otherwise.

The Iraqi Freedom Force, with the aid of Army special forces units and 2nd/4th Force Reconnaissance Marines from Task Force Tarawa, began the initial stages of the liberation of the city here from Ba'ath Party rule April 8th.

The mission began with force recon Marines driving from their camp south of Baghdad to the 82nd Air Mobile's position in the city of Al Hamzah. There, Army special forces and psychological operations units provided loudspeakers and security for an Iraqi Freedom Force rally. At the rally, held outside the bombed local Ba'ath Party Headquarters, leaders of the freedom force encouraged citizens to take up arms against the oppressive forces of Saddam Hussein in Ad Diwaniyah. The rally and the subsequent trip north was the culmination of months of work on behalf of Army special operation forces and United States government officials.

During the rally, force recon Marines provided security. The Marines sopped traffic in and around the area, they secured the perimeter of the rally and provided over-watch to the special operations forces who were in the thick of the rally.

"Today's mission was not a doctrinal employment of Force Recon," said Maj. Mark A. Hashimoto, a platoon commander for 2nd Force Recon. The activated reservist and native of Honolulu, Hi., added "However, due to our mobility and communication assets, we were well suited to support the mission."

After the rally, the freedom force members, armed mostly with AK-47 assault rifles, gathered into their own vehicles and lead the way north to Ad Diwaniyah.

"It's always a tense moment going into a denied area. As far as I know, there had been fighting on the outskirts, but no coalition forces had been in to secure the city itself," said Hashimoto.

Entering the city first, the freedom force members split up and canvassed the city, letting the citizens know that the city was now safe and no longer under the control of the Ba'ath Party. Random shots were heard throughout the city, but no casualties were reported.

Following the freedom force, the force recon platoon made its way to the heart of the city, where it was greeted by thousands of joyous citizens.

"They were really happy. You could see it on their faces. They were overjoyed they weren't going to be oppressed anymore," said Cpl. Mike Menkewicz, a reconnaissance Marine with 2nd Force Recon. The Allentown, Pa. native added "Having all those people yelling and thanking us for saving them definitely makes me feel like I have a purpose over here and have accomplished something, even though all we personally did was make sure the freedom force could do its job."

"This was the first time the citizens felt secure enough to openly show support of the American forces," said Hashimoto.

The local townsmen and women chanted pro-American slogans such as, "good, good ... President Bush, President Bush ... and Saddam no more." They also asked the Marines to stay in the town, and ran alongside the vehicles. Menkewicz described it this way "... it was like a parade, with people packed on either side of the street for blocks around."

The Marines of force recon relied on their training in the crowded environment to ensure no one was hurt because of a misunderstanding. "We saw rifles in the crowd, but they were all slung on the shoulders of the freedom force members, " said Hashimoto.

The Marines completed their patrol of the city and drove to a checkpoint where they met with Army and Iraqi Freedom Force officials to discuss the mission.

"All the credit for this mission has to go to the work the (special forces) soldiers have been doing," said Hashimoto. "I'm glad TFT was able to contribute in a small way to the huge success of the special force's mission."

Steps are underway to restore the infrastructure of the city. The freedom forces hope to establish a bureaucracy that can setup a police force, a sanitation department, and electricity and water services.

At the end of the day, Marines reflected on what they had experienced: "To see the reactions of these people when we showed up was truly amazing. To see people whose freedoms have been denied, and then seeing their hope of having all those freedoms restored," said Hashimoto.

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