AL ASAD, Iraq -- “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Those are the words of President George W. Bush, stating the U.S. policy of slowly relinquishing control of Iraq to its own people.
At the heart of this policy is the successful evolution of the Iraqi Security Forces, who, despite bombs and death threats, continue to learn the ropes of combat patrols and provincial security.
But to be successful, the Iraqis need bases of operations, and that’s where the Engineer Support Battalion Marines at Al Asad, Iraq, serve as important a role as any in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Marines are busy every day in the hot Iraqi sun building a fully functional, self-sustaining ISF base. It is one of many sites Iraqis will use to assume responsibility for the security of their nation.
“This base will house an Iraqi brigade,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 James S. Harrison, the utilities platoon commander from engineer ESB. “But it will be self-sustaining, with potable water, a chow hall, laundry facilities and other things the Iraqis will need.”
Lance Cpl. Kenneth L. Marshall, of Jacksonville, NC, is in charge of the detachment’s motor transportation section. In this role, he has been involved in almost all of the base’s projects and operations.
“I think this is awesome,” he said. “This is the first step in getting us home and letting the Iraqis take care of their own country.”
Marshall and many of his fellow Marines started the project with limited training in some of the specific areas required for building the base. The interior plumbing, for example, had never been done on such a large scale by the Marines.
Harrison said his Marines were only 40 percent trained for the work they were required to do. As a result, the camp building was initially slow as the Marines learned new skills and how to conform what they already knew to an Iraqi standard.
“I’ve got some outstanding Marines,” Harrison said. “The scope of what’s been accomplished is amazing. We were new to this, but now we’re ahead of schedule and we’re going to stay that way.”
Despite the growing pains, Harrison said that watching the camp grow from nothing into an operational military base has had a noticeable effect on the Marines.
Lance Cpl. Joshua L Anderson, a combat engineer from Jackson, Tenn., is one of those Marines.
“I’ve always liked watching something build up and come alive,” he said. “It’s been a great learning experience, and I feel a lot of pride in myself.”
With legumes for storing water, a dining facility, headquarters buildings and other important infrastructure, the ISF base at Al Asad is the beginning of a truly free Iraq.
“Camps like this are going up all over the country,” Harrison explained. “The sooner they get in here, the sooner they will take control of their destiny.”