They Call us Angels
The Last Month of Female ECP Duty
LCpl Jude Eden, Alpha Co. Data Plt.
Ever since war in Iraq became a consideration for our administration, careful attention has been paid to respecting the culture of those we are trying to help. While engaging in combat to facilitate self government for the Iraqi people, we have all heard the phrase “winning hearts and minds.” In light of the unique dynamic between men and women in Middle Eastern culture (namely that a man does not interact, let alone touch, a woman that is not his wife or in his family), female Marines have been tasked with Entry Check Point duty searching the Iraqi females who come into the city of Fallujah. Now this duty is in the hands of Iraqi females who have been trained at 29 Palms, and October was the last month for Marines to have this opportunity.
For the entire month we started and finished our days with convoys through the city to each of the 5 check points. We got to know our convoy Marines – the men from RCT8 who risked their lives daily to get us to and from each destination. We got to know the infantry Marines who live at the ECPs – men from 2/6 who have the very difficult job of maintaining security at the checkpoints and, with limited help from an interpreter, managing the Iraqi Police, Army, and detainees. While we’re pretty spoiled here with running water, chow halls and a PX, they use bottled water to shave and shower and rely on other units to bring them hot chow once or twice a day. They hope they get some goodies they can use and enjoy in the mail. We often came bearing PX bags full of things they couldn’t get for themselves. We also made use of our job skills and other knowledge. One day the generator at ECP 1 broke down, and LCpl Rodriguez (Engineers) provided expertise to get them up and running again. When the Polaris at ECP 3 needed fixing, LCpl Erhardt (Motor T) brought out tools and materials and fixed it for them. They also had some computer issues, and I (Data) was ready to help solve the problem. Since many Marines speak little to no Arabic, my training in SLAC (Survival Language Arabic Course) also came in very handy.
Interacting with the Iraqis was an unforgettable experience. Often funny, sometimes frustrating, we handled everything from women with open-topped boxes of live chickens to men who wanted us to be one of their 4 wives. Many were very grateful and impressed with our efforts to speak Arabic to them. Sometimes a mother would lift her toddler to us to give a kiss on the cheek. Children would come through, fascinated with us, and every so often one would extend an outstretched palm and say, “Mista! Mista! Chocolate!” Most gratifying were the times when an English speaking woman would offer thanks and good wishes for our safety, saying, “America is our friend. Be careful and be safe here,” or “You are our sister.” All of us have stories, though not all are pleasant. There was the day infantry Marines engaged in a foot pursuit of a man on their target list who was dressed as a female. One day a mortar went off well within sight, and it was a little while before we determined that the Marine on post was okay, but an Iraqi policeman had been killed. Another morning a grenade was thrown at us one our way to ECP 2, but thankfully landed between the trucks and didn’t harm anyone.
I am grateful I was able to participate in the ECP duty experience. Being a Data Marine, I otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go outside the wire and see what’s really happening out there. I felt a strong sense of purpose because I was able to connect the cause of promoting Iraqi independence with the necessary work and the people themselves. I was able to see something of what their lives are like – their vivaciousness, their frustration, even their sadness. It not only made me appreciative of what we have in America, it reaffirmed my belief in our goal here. It was worthwhile getting to know the Iraqis, infantry Marines, and the interpreters. Most rewarding was being able to get to know my fellow female Marines, whom I found to be bright, high-spirited, confident and generous. Leading from the front was our NCOIC Sgt Weeks, who, in a recent email to us said, “I have never worked with a better group of females and would be happy to work beside you anytime.” I couldn’t agree more.