AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marines from throughout 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) put their regularly duties on hold and took an active role in safely transporting Iraqi poll workers during the Iraqi Constitution referendum.
Operation Liberty Express ended Oct. 18, as the successful Iraqi poll workers and the cast ballots flew out of Al Asad, Iraq, and into history.
The Marines, who spent days and nights making sure the vote was able to happen safely were finally able to get some rest.
“First couple of nights we worked for 18 straight hours,” said Staff Sgt. William Estes, an avionics chief with Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2, who served as both the manifest and security staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of Operation Liberty Express. “We were in charge of safely moving the Iraqi poll workers to cities throughout the Al Anbar province. The Marines made sure the elections were organized and safely transported people and ballots.”
The atmosphere at Al Asad after the vote was joyous, as Iraqis sang and clapped their hands as they prepared to fly back home.
“The Iraqis were friendly and excited about working with us,” said Estes, a Miami native. “They were singing on the buses, happy to be on the way back home with the vote a success.”
Estes said the Marines from throughout 2nd MAW worked well together and were able to learn new skills while coordinating and leading the operation. Anytime there was a problem, he said the Marines adapted and overcame it.
“It was awesome getting to help with the referendum,” said Lance Cpl. Derek Delcano, a motor transport operator with Marine Tactical Air Command Squadron 28, and native of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., who served as a security guard during Operation Liberty Express. “It was important we did this. One day this will be something I tell my grandchildren.”
Delcano said he had many different responsibilities during guard duty, but he said the happiness of the Iraqis was infectious.
“None of us got much sleep, but that didn’t stop some Iraqis from singing and dancing,” said Delcano. “They were singing Arabic songs, so you don’t know what you’re saying, but singing along you feel like you’re a part of their culture. They don’t care if you’re singing correctly, as long as you’re singing with them.”
The Marines said they were excited to get a chance to leave the flightline and be exposed to Iraqi culture.
“It felt good putting my cammies on and an M-16 around my shoulder,” Cpl. Jeffrey Dean, an aircraft rescue and firefighter with Marine Wing Support Squadron 272, who served as a security guard during Operation Liberty Express. “This reminds me why I joined the Corps, and that I am a rifleman first. I am glad I got to play my part helping the Iraqis have a safe vote.”
Dean said he got a greater understanding of the Iraqis and that most of them were very appreciative the Marines were helping them vote.
“A few of the Iraqis were angry,” said Dean. “It seems to me the angry ones had generalized opinions. If you gave them the time of day and talked to them you could work your problems out. They are not as different as I thought they would be.”
Operation Liberty Express wasn’t all singing and dancing. It took days of hard work and constant vigilance to enjoy the results of the successful vote.
“A majority of the Marines realize they are making history,” said Estes. “They know their job and understand how important the elections are to the Iraqi people and to the U.S. government.”