A letter from Iraq

Note: Following is a letter from a Marine officer in Iraq to his friends and family. Former Marine Richard Bianchino, who once lived in Lake Ridge, sent it to Gary Jacobsen. The letter is unedited, except for explanations in brackets. Mr. Jacobsen will donate his compensation for this column to the Navy and Marine Relief Society.

Hey Everyone!

Just wanted to check in and say hello and tell you that everything is fine here in Al Hillah, Iraq, (Babylon). I am living right near the ruins of Babylon and got a chance to walk through the ruins and check the place out.

It is amazing to see the history that has been bottled up here for 30 years or more. I actually was in “Daniel’s lions den.” Also got to see the famous lion of Babylon.

Today the Marines re-dedicated a WWI British cemetery that had been trashed by the regime. There are UK soldiers buried there from the Al Kut battle in WWI and from Gallipoli. There is even a headstone with the name “Harry Potter.” The regime had destroyed a cross and a local resident had a picture of it from 1972 and he gave it to the Seabees who rebuilt it for the dedication. Those Seabees are magic men and women. They are mostly reservists and all great at what they do.

The Iraqi people were also very happy to help and said that they liked the cemetery as it was once a nice peaceful place and now it’s back to good condition. Up until two weeks ago it was being used as a trash dump.

Still miss Alicia and the kids something fierce and can’t wait to get home. We are hearing that I’ll be leaving here in mid-June. Have also started receiving packages from folks and I can’t tell you how awesome that is. I would not send anymore at this point or they will be getting returned to me back in the states by the time they get out here.

We’ve got a fresh supply of baby wipes and corn nuts (and power bars thanks to my father-in-law and Pam.) I also wanted to give you all straight scoop on the efforts going on here.

The Marines and Army have made great strides in maintaining order and making this place stable again despite what you read in the press. As we know, some of them like to concentrate on the “conflict” angle and like to report bad news because it sells, but I can tell you I honestly see good things everyday. The people of Iraq are generally happy that we are here.

I drove to Najaf and Karbala the other day and people were coming out of their homes to wave to us and the kids all line the streets and say “GOOD MISTAH!” Interestingly enough, I was with an old classmate at NU. I went to Najaf to see another classmate of mine, but he was off on a mission. While there, I ran into a guy I went to AWS [Amphibious Warfare School] with and an old TBS [The Basic School] classmate, so I’m never far from friends around this place.

There is a lot of work to be done and I read a lot of stuff in my job that has press reports of people protesting and wanting us to leave, but in the Marine AO [Area of Operations], I can tell you that people are glad to have us here.

We are training up their local police forces and trying to work with the good ones and flush out the bad ones. Things are improving on that front. The food situation is really good and people have enough food and water. There is actually a train heading north to our area with 800K metric tons of food-talk about a big dinner!

The crops here are about to be harvested and that is good too. Date palms were recently sprayed and farmers have water in their fields. We are coordinating with all kinds of non-government agencies that don’t necessarily like to associate themselves with the military unless they need security. They are doing good work here, too. They assessed all our areas “permissive” which means more agencies can come in and work with reasonable expectation that it is safe.

Schools are getting back to normal and hospitals are working. Flights have arrived with food and some of them commercial.

Marines ate breakfast with a local school that wanted to show their appreciation. People seem generally relaxed and working toward fixing things.

I think whatever protesters are around are old regime supporters who are mad they don’t get free stuff from Saddam anymore.

Gasoline is still an issue, but we’re trying to fix that too. People wait in lines for gas, but they have it and busses are taking people where they need to go.

It doesn’t help that their own people looted most of the power grids and public utilities, but we’re fixing that too.

Schools and universities are getting back to business and power is steadily resuming.

Interestingly, some areas are better than before and a lot of the breakdown in services happened before we even got here. One town had all 16 garbage trucks stripped of parts, but the Marines and Seabees are fixing them up so that trash can be collected. When you think of all the things that make a country run down to water and garbage, we’ve made HUGE progress in getting things back on track, so listen to the media with caution.

Most of the media have not come down to the Marine AO because there is no bad news. Today a little girl was brought to the gate. She was 2 and recently had a hernia operation that had gone bad. We took her in and MEDEVAC’d [medical evacuation] her and her family to receive treatment. Those little things never make the news. Little by little things are getting better and you can be so proud of the young Marines and sailors that are out here making things happen instead of criticizing from back in the states.

So that’s what’s going on here from the horse’s mouth. Hit me with any questions you have and I’ll be glad to answer them if I can. And if you hear people talking bad about what the U.S. is doing now, think about how hard it would be in your town to restore order. These folks are on track. Imagine, less than a month ago, there was a war!

I’m looking forward to coming home and relaxing with the family. I miss all you guys and look forward to this summer.

Take care!

Semper Fi.

Note: The Marine unit returned to the United States in early July.

Gary Jacobsen, a former Marine, lives in Woodbridge.