RAMADI, Iraq -- There was no sound of firefights, no words of “incoming” over the intercom, and no explosions, only the sound of the Iraqi National Anthem being played as Marines from 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment handed over control of forward operating base Snake Pit and surrounding battlespace to the Iraqi Army during a Transfer of Authority ceremony July 31.
Receiving command of the base was the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division. The Iraqi unit has been teamed with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines since March.
“It’s a great day,” said 1st Sgt. Marty W. Fenton, Company first sergeant for Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines. “We are one step closer to our goal by giving the Iraqi Army its own battlespace.”
Members of Company L, who were based at Snake Pit from March to July 2006, witnessed the first official turn over of bases with the Iraqi Army in Ar Ramadi.
Capt. Reginald McClam, the battalion’s assistant operations officer, opened the ceremony with a brief reading of Snake Pit’s history.
“The Snake Pit forward operating base allowed Marines and Iraqi Army to jointly project combat power into a dense urban environment,” said McClam, 32, from Garner, N.C. “Each rotational battalion, along with our fellow Iraqi Army brothers, has left an indelible mark in securing the western portion of Ramadi.”
The forward operating base was established by 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment during its deployment to Ar Ramadi from March to September 2004. Since then three other Marine units have used it to operate in the city.
Under the command of Lt Col. Stephen M. Neary, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines handed control of the base to the Col. Khalid, the 2-1-7 Iraqi Army commander.
“My Marines and I look forward to our continued partnership as we work together side by side in Ramadi,” said Neary, 40, from Boston, Mass. “The Iraqi Army stands strong and continues to grow in Ramadi which is a great step in the journey toward progress and prosperity.”
Cpl. Caesar M. Hernandez, a 22-year-old squad leader from Delray Beach, Fla., with 2nd Platoon, Company L., stood in formation witnessing the historic ceremony.
“This speaks volumes of what we are doing here and the success being made in the western portion of Ramadi,” said Hernandez. “This frees up other units here so they can operate in other places.”
“I am sure this will show the Iraqi people the progress being made here,” he said.
Ali Mohan, an Iraqi soldier, stood in formation next to the Marines.
“This is good because we can take control of the area with pure Iraqi Army doing all the things the Americans have done,” said Mohan. “It will help us understand each other.”
During the ceremony, both Marine and Iraqi first sergeants raised the Iraqi flag while the Iraqi national anthem was played. Everyone in attendance stood at attention to pay respects. Lt. Col. Neary and Col. Khalid then cut a ribbon tied to an Iraqi humvee and Marine humvee, signifying the turnover of authority.
“This is a good day. We still need the support from the Marine Corps for anything we don’t have, but it’s still a great feeling,” said Maj. Amaar Farhood from the 2-1-7 IA. “This is good day for us and our people.”
Sgt. Jonathan M. Long, a 26-year-old Military Transition Team logistics trainer for the 2-1-7 IA will live on Snake Pit to train the Iraqi Soldiers.
“This is huge for the Iraqi Army and their operational experience in Ramadi,” said Long, from Needles, Calif. “They’re taking better control of their country, and this will show the Iraqi people they can do something to stop the insurgents.”
Food and beverages, including a cake depicting an Iraqi Flag, were served after the ceremony.
Maj. Christopher Hotstetter, 2-1-7 Mitt Team chief, spoke highly of the event.
“This is the right thing at the right time and it really reflects the progress that this battalion is making and their capability to take on the fight,” said Hotstetter, 37, from Ontario, Ore., “The ceremony is a great example of the close cooperation between the U.S. and Iraqi forces.And the cake was good, too.”
The transfer of authority ultimately allowed hundreds of Marines from the battalion to concentrate their efforts on other areas of the city. It was a significant step in the future of the self-governance and self-reliance in the Al Anbar provincial capital.