Glad To Report
In Conditions And
By SSgt JOSH HIGGINS
Public Affairs Chief
Regimental Combat Team 1
EDITORS NOTE -- U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Josh Higgins grew up in Mosheim and joined the Marine Corps in 1997 as an infantryman.
"After four years of service, I did a lateral move into the Corps' public affairs field and now serve as a combat correspondent," he wrote this week.
"Here in Iraq I fill the billet of public affairs chief for Regimental Combat Team 1, I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD).
"Our area of responsibility covers a large portion of Iraq's al Anbar Province, which includes cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Habbaniyah."
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- In Iraq, the thicker and more extravagant a man's mustache the more "wasta" he is considered to have. Translated to English, wasta means power or masculinity.
I find it only fitting that the first month I spent in this emerging country, my Marines and I, along with several others in our unit, decided July would be the month we display our wasta. Not necessarily to demonstrate our own personal power, but more for camaraderie and to relate to the locals here.
I arrived here with a group of other Marines on my first combat tour on June 26 aboard a KC-130 Hercules and under the blinding conditions of a sandstorm, which is caused by high winds lifting and blowing around suspended particles of sand.
It turns out the storm would be the first of many yet to come. The temperature that day was above 115 degrees and inside our body armor it felt even hotter. As if the two-hour flight in those temperatures wasn't enough to zap our energy, four of us destined for Camp Fallujah had to also endure a 45-minute convoy ride to the camp. It was an exhausting trip for all of us.
Like most service members deploying for the first time in support of the war, I wasn't sure what to expect. Being in the public affairs field, in which part of my job is to keep up with media reports, I had formed ideas about what life might be like during my seven-month deployment. I had also talked to many Marines, some who had deployed here numerous times, to prepare myself. But the truth is you can never fully prepare for what is to come.
Many of the Marines I spoke with were here during some of the toughest and most dangerous stages of the war. Most of the media reports I read focused on tragedy rather than the progress we, along with Iraqi citizens, are making.
Yes, there has been a lot of violence and bloodshed in this country. And there are those wanting to inflict tragedy and fear who still linger throughout Iraq's neighborhoods. But thanks to Iraqi citizens' decision to revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq one year ago, otherwise known as "The Awakening," coupled with Coalition forces' steadfast efforts to help rebuild Iraq, things here have improved drastically since the war began.
Instead of enduring constant encounters of violence, service members find themselves visiting with Iraqi families, sheiks and business owners. A notable venture was a recent visit by Marines to a newly opened Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in downtown Fallujah.
Like so many other cities in Iraq, Fallujah is flourishing with new and refurbished businesses while the nation's own security forces patrol streets maintaining peace and order.
In the camps and forward operating bases spread throughout Iraq, we enjoy some surprising luxuries similar to those found back home. Long departed are the days of eating Meals Ready to Eat at every sitting, operating for weeks without a shower or resorting to letters as the only means of communication with family and friends.
Most of us here live in air-conditioned trailers or buildings and use nearby showers to maintain daily hygiene. For many, a Morale, Welfare and Recreation facility is just a short walk away, where troops can access the Internet, make phone calls and participate in sports and games among other things. Dining facilities, that are not much different from those at bases back home, serve four meals a day.
I've spent the majority of my time thus far familiarizing myself with daily operations, getting to know the Marines I work with and editing the seemingly endless flow of articles our correspondents are writing about improvements to Iraq's security and economy.
During my leisure I read, watch a movie on my laptop or exercise at the camp's fitness center. I keep up with family back home through daily e-mails and frequent phone calls. Mostly, I try to stay busy with work because it makes the days seem to go by quickly.
I guess to sum up my first month here in Iraq I would say things are nothing like what I expected, yet in another way they are everything I expected. I've never doubted our nation's resilience despite some of the bleak reports making headlines in the mainstream media.
So as I sit here today with a month's worth of mustache growth and six more months of duty ahead I feel pretty damn good about what my fellow Marines and other service members have accomplished, and I look forward to witnessing first-hand the developments yet to come.