CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Supporting efforts to quickly employ Iraqis in helping coalition forces stabilize Fallujah, Marines of the 1st Force Service Support Group sped weapons and gear to the city to outfit a newly created Iraqi army battalion May 1, 2004.
The 1st Battalion of the Fallujah Brigade is being established in hopes that it will be a concrete step toward a peaceful resolution in the volatile city. When it has been fully manned, the battalion will be comprised of up to 1,100 Iraqi army volunteers recruited by their former commanders.
The formation of the battalion, which will function under the direct command of I MEF, continues the process of transferring responsibility for security and stability of Iraq to the Iraqi people, said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy director for coalition operations.
The unit assumed control of four checkpoints April 30 and has started patrolling Fallujah, he said.
Yet, until the Iraqi battalion demonstrates a capacity to effectively man designated checkpoints and positions, Marines will continue to maintain a strong presence in and around Fallujah, said Kimmitt during a press briefing April 30.
"We have assigned the Iraqi battalion to our least-engaged sector until they can get their feet on deck, absorb the weapons and equipment we are passing their way and prepare for the next phase of the operation," said Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, the I Marine Expeditionary Force commander.
"It's important for us to get them the support that they need so they can take the job over," said 1st Lt. Christopher B. Mays, a 28-year-old native of Sunderland, Md.
Mays is in charge of incoming air shipments for Combat Service Support Group 15, part of the 1st FSSG, which took the lead in moving these supplies to the Iraqi battalion.
Motivated by a desire to get the Iraqis supplied as soon as possible, the Marines reduced their usual turnaround time, said CSSG-15's operations officer, Maj. Raphael Hernandez, a 35-year-old native of El Paso, Texas.
As soon as the fully loaded helicopters hit the ground here, they were met by trucks from pre-staged convoys, which were immediately loaded and sent rolling to marry up with the battalion.
The supplies came in two waves, one containing 13 boxes of AK-47s, which left for Fallujah early in the morning, and another made up of 20 crates of uniforms, boots and miscellaneous combat gear, which left later in the evening.
These shipments are only expected to satisfy the battalion's initial needs.
For now, the Iraqis are asking for very little, Conway said, even turning down flak jackets and opting for berets over helmets. Some of the soldiers already have their own uniforms, but Marines have shipped them the same garb as the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps wears.
In terms of hardware, the battalion is in need of radios and trucks, which has I MEF burning the midnight oil trying to acquire, the general said.
"Those are just not as readily available as we would like, although there were negotiations well into last night to try to bring some over from locations east of here," he said May 1.
As the I MEF makes the battalion's needs known, the 1st FSSG will continue to support the Iraqi troops as they do the rest of the Marines.
"I think it's important for the civilians to see their own Iraqis trying to help them. The better we can equip them ... the more they can help themselves," said Mays.