MOSUL, Iraq -- For the Marines and Sailors of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), this has been an exciting and challenging week. Ordered to begin the flow of forces into Northern Iraq on April 11 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the MEU Marines and Sailors were excited to have been given an opportunity to help liberate the people of Iraq.
"I'm very happy to be here," said Sgt. Keith Perrigon, 26, a member of the 26th MEU's Force Reconnaissance Platoon. "Whenever we go out in town, women and children come out from their homes to smile and wave at us and that's a good feeling. Obviously, they believe that we have done something good for them and their future," said the Maryland native.
Among the many goals for these Marines and Sailors was the reestablishment of order and stability in the city of Mosul, the third largest city in Iraq with a population of over 2 million people.
"Without a safe and secure environment, humanitarian assistance operations and traditional peacekeeping operations are just not practical," said Staff Sgt. Jared Scogna, the Civil Affairs Staff Noncommissioned Officer-In-Charge for the 26th MEU (SOC). "The citizens of the local community are afraid to leave their homes and international aid organizations and corporations cannot safely bring in their goods, thus delaying the reconstruction effort. Creating a safe environment is the first step towards improving the lives of the local community," said the Arlington, Va., native, who performed similar civil affairs' duties in Kosovo in 2000 and 2001.
Reestablishing order in Mosul is proving to be a difficult task with the many ethnic groups, tribal allegiances and historical factors to consider. In addition to deeply rooted cultural biases, 26th MEU Marines and Sailors faced an even harder task in Mosul.
Unlike other Iraqi towns of comparable size, Mosul was spared the 'shock and awe' of a large-scale coalition bombardment and a heavy U.S. mechanized infantry presence that had been so effective in eliminating large pockets of armed resistance in other cities throughout southern and central Iraq.
Consequently, when former members of the Republican Guard and Iraq's Fifth Corps laid down many of their large conventional weapons and simply went home, 26th MEU Marines and Sailors and U.S. Special Forces here faced a local community with pockets of anti-American sentiment intermingled amongst the largely supportive Mosul citizenry.
To compound matters, basic water and electrical services were not functioning causing tension and anxiety among the citizens.
Today, a short seven days later, the electricity has returned to the majority of the city's residents and the water is flowing again to most of the city.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Marines and Sailors of Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/8, 26th MEU (SOC), repelled two attacks by hard-line supporters of the former regime with well-aimed fire in downtown Mosul.
"On Tuesday, our Marines weathered a rapid escalation of violence from low intensity to high intensity in less than an hour," said Maj. Paul Brickley, the operations officer for BLT 1/8. "From passive on-lookers to a rock-throwing mob to a violent riot with hard-liners firing small arms at my Marines, they handled each one of those phases with the duty and professionalism that we expect of all of our Marines," said the Boston native.
Since Wednesday, the streets in Mosul have been relatively calm with families returning to the streets and shop doors opening again as U.S. patrols have increased and a reorganized Mosul police force has helped promote security here.
As the citizens of Mosul enjoy more stability and personal security, the city appears on its way to resuming normalcy in a liberated and free Iraq. But the challenges are many in nearly every functional civic area.
There still exists many hard-line members of the Baath Party and terrorists in Mosul who have yet to be brought to justice; that work continues as Iraqi citizens come forward daily with new information on the whereabouts of remaining hard-liners in their neighborhoods.
For the Marines and Sailors, they're excited to have a mission.
"I've been waiting a long time to get here," said Private First Class Eric Madden, an Alpha Company, BLT 1/8 rifleman from Plano, TX. "I'm excited to be a part of the action here and to be able to help these people makes me feel really proud of what I'm doing."
Chief Warrant Officer-2 Steven R. Lucas, an explosive ordnance disposal officer for the 26th MEU (SOC) has been given the task of trying to identify and catalogue the tons of weapons, ammunition, surface-to-air missiles and unexploded ordnance in the region. "I've done more EOD work in the past seven days than I've probably done in the past five years," said the Iowa native. "Even though war is a bad situation, it's been a great opportunity to do my job. The best reward for me is trying to help the Iraqi people to live free of the potentially devastating effects of these weapons and unexploded ordnance. I'm glad to be here doing what I'm trained to do," he said.
For more information on the 26th MEU (SOC) in Iraq, visit them on the web at www.26meu.usmc.mil.