From 'Ambush Alley' to peaceful alley

20 May 2008 | Lance Cpl. Casey Jones

Step after step, combat boots hit the pavement. It’s been a few hours for the Marine squad walking the Ramadi streets. Fatigued yet steady, the young men push forward on their routine foot patrol despite the mid-day desert heat; each squad member maintaining a constant alertness with eyes scanning the environment in every direction. The squad leader passes by a familiar face; a local vender who he sees almost every day. Instantly, the look of exhaustion washes away, and a smile is brought to his face. Lifting his hand, he warmly greets the vender with, “Al salaam a’alaykum.”

Every day, Marine infantrymen like those with Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, patrol neighborhoods and actively engage the community of al-Anbar Province. But the Marines are not alone on these patrols; they are walking side-by-side with Iraqi policemen, mentoring and providing guidance as they take responsibility for the safety of their own community.

According to Lance Cpl. Jonathan R. Chapman, rifleman with Company A, the Iraqi police are doing a remarkable job in the lead role.

“The Iraqi Police are doing very well,” Chapman said. “They are excellent policemen. They’re all very tactically sound.”

The Iraqi Police have taken giant steps over the past year in becoming more independent. This can mostly be attributed to the “al-Anbar Awakening” where tribal leaders supported the Coalition forces’ efforts, and took a stand against al-Qaeda in Iraq last year. Sheiks throughout the province encouraged tribal members to join the Iraqi Police ranks and protect their streets, resulting in Ramadi’s Iraqi Police recruitment to sky-rocket. Today, they are more than 9,000 Iraqi police serving in the province capital.

“The Iraqi policemen lead the patrols since we’re in an advisory, we just guide and assist them,” said 2nd Lt. Derek J. Herrera, a platoon commander with Company A. “Either their sergeant or lieutenant lead the patrols.”

Units throughout the city routinely conduct daily joint patrols, focusing on the community’s safety and the citizens concerns; a stark contrast from the kinetic activity and violence a year ago.

“We try to do joint patrols as often as we can, usually every day,” Herrera said; a different circumstance compared to past units in the city.  “I’ve heard from friends and other cohorts, you couldn’t go on patrol in Ta’meem for more than five to 10 minutes without receiving fire. The way the Iraqi policemen describe it, Ta’meem used to be at the forefront of the insurgency. It was once referred to as 'ambush alley.'”

Today shows a more peaceful environment, where Iraqis and Marines patrol the neighborhoods, and receive positive response from the citizens.

“The locals are very friendly towards coalition forces and the (policemen) as well,” Herrera said. “They really appreciate what we do. We’ve never really had a negative reaction from anyone in Ta’meem. The kids run to us and beg for chocolate and the adults really appreciate our help.”

With the positive changes in the Ta’meem area and the progressive steps made by the Iraqi police officers, the station, like many others, is looking towards taking community safety to the next level and bring the city of Ramadi closer to a state of normalcy.

“Our push now, is to make it more police oriented,” Herrera said. “Instead of having ten policemen walk down the street, now we’re trying to make it about only two. That way they can just sit on the corner, talk to the people, and walk the beat around the same block all day. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the next push.”