KARBALA, Iraq -- In a power transformer yard in northern Karbala, protected by barbed wire, the Marines of I Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines make their home.
What makes this arrangement unusual is that inside the company's perimeter, is a row of small apartment buildings were a handful of Iraqi men, who run the transformer yard, live with their families.
The families lived in the compound long before the coalition invasion of Iraq, and were still there when the company moved in. Because they share common ground, the Iraqis and Marines have benefited from each other's presence in ways both great and small.
"The first time I came down here was probably a week before we moved into Karbala," said Maj. Matthew Grosz, the company commander. "I met some of the men, and they showed me around the transformer station."
"They're happy to have us here," said Grosz, who hails from Springfield, Va. "They enjoy the security."
Rafid Munir, the brother of Raad Munir, one of the men living on the compound, visits his brother frequently from Baghdad. He said he was very happy his brother is living in the compound with Marines.
"I very happy because the Marines are with Mr. Raad," he said. "It's safer here with the Marines. And in Baghdad and in all of Iraq, it is safer now."
The Marines have enjoyed some benefits from the mutual relationship as well.
"They've given us Arabic classes," said Grosz. "They've let us use water, air conditioning, and electricity, and acted as translators for us."
"We've had a fairly easy time achieving our mission knowing the families were not going to pose a threat," he said.
Also, the Iraqis have set up small stores in front of their houses, selling things to the Marines such as sodas, batteries and lighters the Marines would have no other way of obtaining.
"It's cool, because they get us stuff like sodas or watches or a guitar if someone wants it, which we wouldn't be normally able to get," said Lance Cpl. Boram Hong, from Riverside, Calif., an assistant gunner.
Regardless of the language barrier, the Marines and Iraqis manage to communicate, Grosz said.
"A couple speak broken English and we're able to communicate with them through pictures and hand and arm signals," he said.
The one activity in which the language barrier has little effect is in the games the Marines play with the Iraqi children, including shooting water balloons with a sling one of the Marines got in a care package from home.
"We come out here at night and play with them, shoot water balloons, play soccer and stuff," said Lance Cpl. Jon Bullock, an infantryman from Lilburn, Ga. "I'm the oldest of five, so I like to playfully pick on them a little."
Interacting with the Iraqis and their children is a common pastime for many of the Marines, as it would be for any neighbors.
"We all come over here," said Cpl. Isaiah Akwaboah, from Robbins, Ill., a motor vehicle operator with Truck Company, First Marine Division. "I sit over here, and they give me food and free sodas and stuff."
"We play soccer on a regular basis, and we tried to teach them football, but they didn't catch on to that too well," Hong said. "If people send us stuff like Frisbees, we'll give them to the kids and teach them how to play."
The exchange between the Marines and the nearby residents, whether it's language, customs or games, is a good example of how two different cultures are coming together in the light of the Iraqi people's new found freedom.
"For me this is a dream in my life," said Rafid Munir. "The first day the US forces were in Baghdad, that was a very big day because I touched the freedom in my hand, in my heart, in everything."