FORWARD OPERATING BASE ECHO, Iraq -- The country of Iraq is presently in a state of transformation to a democratic sovereignty as elections loom six months in the future. Now, another change has come into their lives, specifically for the people in the province of Al Qadisiyah and in the city of Diwaniyah in particular. The Marines have landed -- again.
Marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) are currently conducting a turnover with the U.S. Army in the province of Qadisiyah in support of Security and Stability Operations here.
Upon offloading from the USS Belleau Wood, USS Denver and USS Comstock for 10 days of training in Kuwait on July 7, MEU Marines traveled by convoy and military aircraft to the FOB here. Once an official turnover between the Army’s Task Force Crockett is complete, the MEU will take responsibility for the area.
"We'll spend approximately 10 days to two weeks showing the 11th MEU everything about the area of responsibility," said Army Maj. Michael N. Davey, coalition commander, Joint Operations Area Saddle, and executive officer of 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division. "We'll show them how we conduct operations, maintain accountability of personnel, operations we've conducted, show them strategic places on the ground as well as all the things we're doing to train the Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi Police."
The Division made it clear from the beginning that they were here to maintain stability of the area while the 11th MEU (SOC) moved into the country and prepared to take responsibility for supporting the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people, according to Lt. Col. Eugene N. Apicella, executive officer, 11th MEU (SOC). Apicella is serving as the commanding officer's senior representative in the Qadisiyah province.
"The Army is prepared to conduct as long of a turnover as needed to ensure a smooth turnover of military responsibilities in this area," said Apicella.
According to Davey, the Army will gradually step back and allow the MEU to take over operations. There are two steps to the Army's turnover process; the first is what they call "right seat ride," which means the Marines observe how they work; the second is called "left seat ride," where Marines take the wheel while the Army observes and helps out where help is needed.
"It's not a one-day quick change over," Davey explained. "We've been here longer so we have more knowledge of everything that's happened in the recent past."
Davey said there's a large exchange of information, which contributes initially to successful mission completion, until the incoming unit gets into a battle rhythm.
"At the end of that 10-day period, the commander of the 11th MEU and Task Force Crocket's higher headquarters will brief the 1st Infantry Division General on all the things that were covered for the transfer of authority," Davey explained. "If both commanders feel comfortable with the turnover, then the general transfers authority to the MEU and sends Task Force Crocket back to its parent command."
Army and Marine Corps patrols have been working together for more than a week now, learning from each other.
"So far it's been pretty seamless," said Army Staff Sgt. Earl C. Dean, scout squad leader, Scout Platoon, Headquarters Company, 1/14. "It's the same battle drill, we go over (standard operating procedures) and actually take them out there and show them how we work."
"Everything's gone pretty well overall. The Army's definitely been very helpful," said Staff Sgt. Richard M. Saxton, scout sniper platoon sergeant, Scout Sniper Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th MEU (SOC). "The Army scouts are well versed with the area and know their job well. We've learned a lot from them through map studies; where the hot spots are, where to go, where not to go, key points around the city and other things to look out for."
However, according to Dean, the biggest enemy the MEU has to watch out for in Iraq right now is complacency. Operations and missions can become commonplace and repetitive, especially if nothing happens.
"Complacency is the number one enemy out here in Iraq," explained Dean. "You can go out on 100 patrols and nothing will happen, but the enemy could be waiting for that one time that you let your guard down and take advantage of it."
According to Davey, the Marines will be facing several challenges during their tour here.
"When Marines were here last time it was a very different environment, different engagement," Davey said. "Now, with the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government, instead of being able to act independently the Marines are going to have to step back and spend a lot of time mentoring, teaching and coaching the Iraqis."
According to Davey, once sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqi government, the leaders in Baghdad and the provincial governors are now the ones calling the shots. It's their country.
"Marines are just like my infantry soldiers. If something happens we want to act on it right there," said Davey. "We're not able to do that right now. If we do, it makes the Iraqi police and the Iraqi National Guard that much less effective in the eyes of the people."
The Marine's mission is to work with the Iraqi civil and military leadership: governors, mayors, city and municipal councils, police chiefs and the brigade and battalion commanders of the Iraqi National Guard to assist the people of Iraq in maintaining an increasingly stable environment, according to Apicella.
"The entire civil and military leadership of Iraq is organizing, coordinating and building, so it can be tough sometimes for individual governors and leaders to get advice and information from other sources," Apicella continued. "Since we have a solid command and control infrastructure, we can send a question up that chain through the appropriate personnel and get some answers to that governor, civic or military leader to help them do their job."
The people of Diwaniyah are not totally unfamiliar with the Marines. After major combat operations were declared over last year, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, conducted SASO in the city.
"The people of An Diwaniyah very aware of the Marines because they were here before," Davey explained. "So I think there's already a positive relationship built with the IP and ING based on their previous experiences with the Marines."
Although the 11th MEU (SOC) faces several challenges during the transfer of authority from the Army, they are prepared to take them head on.
"We've learned a lot from our Army counterparts and they were more than willing to help us in any way they can," said Saxton. "We're ready to get started."
MEU Marines are also conducting a similar turnover with Army units in the neighboring province of An Najaf.