Exchange serves Marines holding line outside Fallujah

20 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

On most days it does a booming business, even with the air conditioner out and the overpowering smell of camouflaged utilities drenched in sweat and baked in the relentless desert sun.

Marines weave in and out between other shoppers, standing in line for the cash registers to check out the selection - everything from compact discs to shaving cream.

The Camp Fallujah post exchange, one of four main exchanges run by the Marine Corps in Iraq, serves residents of the camp, home to the I Marine Expeditionary Force command element and Regimental Combat Team 1's headquarters, along with infantry battalions from nearby Camp Baharia and Camp Abu Ghraib.

Aside from serving the Marines who keep an eye on Fallujah and its suburbs, the ongoing insurgency impacts what the store keeps on the shelf in a more direct way.

"We have one major issue and that's the flow of merchandise, because a lot of the trucks are driven by Iraqi nationals, and a lot of them are driven by third-country nationals," said Master Sgt. James Jackson, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Marine exchanges in Iraq. "The insurgents have targeted these trucks, killing their own Iraqi drivers. The units offer to provide high levels of security on these convoys, and that's gotten the merchandise moving."

Now, the Marines do their part to keep the merchandise moving off the shelves.

"It's gotten a lot better since we first got here," said Lance Cpl. Sean Rooney, a warehouse chief with Combat Service Support Company 121, Combat Service Support Battalion 1, 1st Force Service Support Group and native of Stony Point, N.Y. "They have pretty much everything you need."

Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Bergeron, a team leader with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and Crestview, Fla. native, visited the exchange about once a month before his battalion left Iraq to return to Camp Pendleton, Calif., generally buying things like fruit juice and movies.

"This is actually the best (field) PX I've seen, compared to last time," said Bergeron. "We had a tent."

Some items, particularly Marine Corps uniforms items, can still be difficult to find, some Marines say.

"They always run out of chevrons, you know, things like that," said Rooney.

Others would like a greater selection of tactical gear, similar to what they are used to finding in tactical outfitter stores that cluster near military bases such as Camp Pendleton.

"Maybe (they could stock) some more Marine Corps-related gear, other than Army-type 'spec ops' gear," said Sgt. John Megahan, a squad leader with 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, which arrived in Iraq only three weeks ago.

Otherwise, Megahan said the PX surpassed the expectations he had before deploying.

"It has a lot more things you wouldn't expect... junk food... cold drinks, especially electronics," added the Ligonier, Penn. native.