CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq --
CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – A Marine drives down a bumpy dirt path and comes to a stop beside several Iraqis. After a quick glance down to his English-to-Arabic dictionary, he smiles and says a new phrase in Arabic.
“I’m pretty much fluent in all languages,” jokes the Marine.
After a couple tries, some laughs, and help from the Iraqis with his pronunciation, Lance Cpl. Gregory Jeranek, from Cincinnati, has learned a new Arabic phrase to help him work with his Iraqi counterparts.
Jeranek, an operations non-commissioned officer for I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), spends his days working with the Iraqi contractors to move barriers and storage containers here. He and the Iraqis work together to prepare the base for eventual turnover to Iraqi control.
With his background as a combat engineer, he is in charge of 15 Iraqi workers from IDL Contracting who operate cranes, front-end loaders and flatbed trucks. He ensures they complete all of their jobs, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Verduce, I MHG(FWD) camp operations chief.
Previously he worked at the engineer shop as a carpenter here; he has helped complete countless projects including rebuilding Pumphouse Barney near Camp Fallujah with outstanding results, said Verduce.
“He is definitely a comedian and keeps not only the Marines’ spirits high, but also the Iraqis’,” said Verduce, who has worked with Jeranek for the past nine months of the deployment. “He always creates a light-hearted environment.”
After his quick Arabic lesson, Jeranek gets out of his vehicle, and looks at the day’s progress. With temperatures rising in the mid-day sun, Jeranek jumps onto the back of a flatbed truck and guides large concrete barriers hoisted by an Iraqi crane operator into position where they will ride to another base. He shouts out directions over the noise of the heavy machinery including the new addition to his Arabic vocabulary. “It means ‘advance; go forward,’” he says.
“The language barrier makes it hard to talk to each other, but believe it or not, doing the job with Iraqis is about the same as doing it with Marines,” said Jeranek. “They are hard workers and the job gets done.”
Today the job was to remove the hundreds of T-wall barriers from the billeting area where Regimental Combat Team 1 housed its Marines before moving to Camp Ramadi. Jeranek makes his way back to his truck and looks on as the contractors begin moving the next barriers in the line. The area is now a very visible sign of transition in Anbar, both as the Iraqi contractors work together with Marines, and as they gradually demilitarize portions of the base.
The Iraqi government took provincial Iraqi control of Anbar province from Multi National Force - West in early September, and Jeranek said having the Iraqis help with the work on base is important because they are involved in the transition and it puts money into the local economy.
Jeranek and his crew of Iraqi contractors also get emergency calls for work around base.
Recently, after finishing work for the day, one of Jeranek’s staff non-commissioned officers came to him late in the evening and told him to put his utility uniform on.
“I thought I was in trouble,” said Jeranek, who has been in the Marine Corps since Dec. 26, 2006. “But, it turns out there was some damage to a wall that needed to be repaired.”
So Jeranek gathered the contractors up and, in the dark, they went out to repair the wall.
“We didn’t finish until about midnight that night, but it’s probably the strongest wall on base now,” he said with pride. “It’s important because it helps protect the Marines here.”
“This job is a lot of responsibility for a lance corporal,” said Jeranek. “But I enjoy working with the Iraqis, and the best part of my job is that I can see the difference I am making.”
Jeranek is one of the few Marines who can balance playfulness in a work environment and still accomplish the mission with outstanding results, said Verduce.
With his team of contractors smiling and working quickly to finish the job, he jumps into his sport utility vehicle and bounces back down the dirt road on his way to another work site across camp.