The Anbar Awakening, for some, is a clich? easily dismissed as an Iraqi fluke in a quagmire of military missteps shuffling to the tune of opportunities lost. Gunner Terry Walker, a 30-year plus veteran of the military and senior gunner of the United States Marine Corps, said, “The pre-packaged concept of an ‘awakening’ is absolutely absurd. These sheiks didn’t just get up one day and declare their allegiance to Coalition Forces. What you see throughout Anbar Province is the fruit of five years of concerted COIN (counter-insurgency) operations.” Whether you believe in spontaneous epiphanies or effective military small-war strategies, the fact remains that waking up was just one point in the Sunni Triangle conversion from the Wild, Wild West to Mayberry.
First Lt. Mauro Mujica is a true believer; you can tell by the intensity in his eyes. During his first tour in Ramadi, his platoon, from 3rd Battalion 7th Marines, Lima Company, lost men. Mujica readily explains, “We made a bunch of mistakes,” but quickly concedes, “The circumstances demanded it.”
Cautious and wiser through experience, this Georgetown graduate, originally from Bethesda, Md., follows (as close as a Marine grunt can) Gandhi’s philosophy of non-resistance. With fewer than a dozen Marines, Mujica presides over an Iraqi police station where his men are outnumbered 10 to 1, but that is only part of the strategy, showing their strength by allowing themselves to be vulnerable or rely upon local police forces. It’s a psychological judo maneuver that has given the nascent Ramadi police force more confidence and bonded the Marines to their pupils/partner/protectors.
1st Lt. Mauro Mujica and Sgt. Brandon Humphrey from 3rd Battalion 7th Marines.
In a different era, Mujica could have been a sort of Lawrence of Arabia. He is determined to adapt to the habits and customs of the indigenous Arab tribes; today, he refuses American food and has learned enough Arabic to finish his interpreter’s sentences.
Capt. Marcus Mainz is the Lima Company commanding officer and strategist who is fond of saying, “If you’re not putting the Iraqis first, you’re wrong.” This comment is counter-intuitive for a Marine with authority because “You’re not taking care of your Marines” is one of the sharpest insults lobbed against Corps officers.
Capt. Marcus Mainz, a psychology major who believes “compassion is a force multiplier.”
When the captain is not overseeing SWEAT operations, namely Sewage, Water, Electricity, Academics and Trash, he’s insisting that an “M” should be added to the military acronym: “I’m working heavily on medical.” Against general military policy, the captain had unofficially opened his 17th Street Joint Security Station to Ramadis who came seeking aid. His Navy corpsman, Jesse Fossetti, saw to the critical care of a burn victim who was airlifted to a Baghdad medical center, but eventually succumbed to his wounds. The victim’s family is very grateful for the enormous effort the Marines made, and that type of gratitude from everyday Ramadis has paid dividends.
“I asked the IP to roll up a very dirty bad guy. They didn’t want to do it because the suspect had tribe connections.” Mainz is very animated as he speaks, quite a feat for a man who did not seem to sleep during the three days I visited his area of operations. “Forty-five minutes later, they delivered the guy. It would have taken us months to do that.”
Maj. Rory Quinn has also seen the light. He got to know Ramadi the first time around, “last year,” as the Marines refer to their last tour when these jarheads patrolled the streets at a steady jog pace instead of the almost leisurely strolling now seen in the souk, Ramadis booming open market district.
Lt. Col. Roger Turner
If there were any doubt about the direction of the Anbari capital, you need look no further then the leader of the pack, Lt. Col. Roger Turner, a physically imposing man that most of the 3/7 use “monster,” “insane,” “no joke” to describe – grunt compliments for infantrymen. Without the slightest hesitation, Turner will state his goal: “I’m in it to win.” Turner can spit tobacco while hob-knobbing with sheiks at town hall-style meetings and sessions with police commissioners. There’s an almost cocky confidence typical of Marines that could be due to the recent success in Anbar.
“But things can change in a second,” says Capt. Mainz, who holds a degree in psychology. Despite their initial Marine Corps infantry training where they learn more about exploding ammunition than the standard measurements of sewage piping, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines infantrymen are literally on the “cutting edge” of COIN.
Streets that were once littered with refuse are now ritually swept. First Lt. Luke Larson claims to be the first to have requested the Ramadis paint the water towers red, white and black – the colors of the national flag. In typical Marine competitive nature, Kilo Company, down the street, says they were first.
With the focus on city services, national pride and health care, it’s easy to confuse this elite fighting force with a socialized political platform, but when you are a foreign, dominating presence in an insular, historically tribal area, a show of magnanimity is more effective than a shower of bullets.
“We are the only ones who can mess this up right now,” says Mujica, who almost wishes his tour did not end in the next two months. As a former wrestler and black belt in Marine Corp Martial Arts, Mainz is accustomed to focusing on a clear goal: “Leave this country better off than when we got here.” A definition of victory the people of Ramadi, so far, can agree on.
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Matt Sanchez, originally from California, is a New York City-based writer currently embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and the Weekly Standard.
A corporal in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a student at Columbia University where he’s working on degree in American Studies, Sanchez says his mission in Iraq is “to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground.” His blog, Matt-Sanchez.com, chronicles his work.