View Full Version : A calling card for death and destruction on recruiting day

01-22-07, 09:57 AM
Bill Ardolino: A calling card for death and destruction on recruiting day

Bill Ardolino, The Examiner

Jan 22, 2007 3:00 AM (7 hrs ago)

Fallujah, Iraq - Editor’s note: Blogger Bill Ardolino is embedded with a U.S. Marine unit in Iraq. He’s there to find out the truth about the U.S. war effort on the ground in Iraq. Unlike the vast majority of mainstream media journalists who stay within the Green Zone in Baghdad, Ardolino is on patrol in the streets wherever his embedded Marine unit goes. This is his third exclusive dispatch for The Examiner.

A slight tension shadowed the professionalism of the Marine Corps Police Transition Team stationed at Fallujah Police Headquarters. It was recruiting day for the city police department. Recruiting drives throughout the country — key milestones in the development of Iraq’s security forces — have been the scenes of some of the war’s worst attacks, as insurgents view them as opportunities to destabilize the young government.

The two previous recruiting days in Fallujah were hit by improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. There were no recruit, police or Marine casualties but three insurgents died. Still, as PTT commanding officer Major Brian Lippo remarked, “You have to advertise these things, and they can be a calling card for death and destruction.”

The PTTs help Falluja’s police by organizing overall security, manning the inner perimeter and interviewing and processing the new recruits. Corp. Jonathan Malone assumed responsibility above his natural rank by organizing all security and logistical details of the event. He briefed the PTT Marines and a temporary detachment of Army personnel at 6 a.m., outlining individual responsibilities and positions.

By 6:45 a.m., the soldiers and Marines were geared up and ready to move out. Capt. Tad Scott, the unit’s executive officer who would remain at the station manning the Joint Communications Center (roughly equivalent to an American 911 dispatch), smiled and asked, “You as nervous as I am, Bill?”

The team moved out to the recruitment area at 7 a.m. in patrol formation, then set up security elements and stations equipped with folding tables and chairs, paperwork and computer equipment. About 20 potential recruits who had waited since dawn were moved from the outer security cordon manned by Iraqi police and lined up outside the processing area.

First the applicants answered a series of basic questions about their age and fitness. Next they moved to a makeshift gym to complete four laps, 20 push-ups and 20 sit-ups to assess basic physical fitness. Then they moved to another room, where an interpreter explained the process, paperwork was filled out, Marines conducted second and third interviews and ID checks, and the candidates were fingerprinted, photographed, retinal scanned and issued new identification.

A dozen or so recruits had been processed by mid-morning when the insurgents attacked. Five mortar rounds were fired trying to “dial-in” the police station. Fortunately, the attackers had chosen the wrong target (the recruiting took place elsewhere) and missed the station, but a 12-year-old boy was injured and a local welder was killed by the mortars.

When I returned to the police station, the child was already bandaged and calmed by Navy Corpsman Jared “Doc J” Jurgensmier.

Despite missing part of his knee, the boy was drinking juice and eating a muffin. The slain welder was known to the Marines, who eulogized him as a “hardworking, good guy.”

The rest of they day passed uneventfully, as Marines joked with quietly nervous recruits to pass the time. Capt. Joseph Lizarraga, a corrections officer helping out with the drive, assessed motivation in the final interview.

“Do you think you have what it takes to be an Iraqi policeman? You have to stick to it, and it takes a lot of determination,” queried Lizarraga while looking recruits in the eye. The answer was invariably “yes.” He’d then try to motivate them:

“It takes belief from the bottom of your heart. And I appreciate what you’re doing. I respect your decision.”

I spoke to a number of the volunteers, asking them why they’d decided to join the police and who the insurgents were and why they targeted the government. Almost to a man, the replied “to protect the city,” “I don’t know,” and “because they just like to destroy,” respectively.

Some of these answers were forthright and some lacked candor — many or most join for pay and have an idea who the insurgents are — but one applicant with an ID that marked him as an Iraqi journalist was uniquely forthcoming. Asked why he’d decided to join the police, he said he’d been driven out of Baghdad by Shia militiamen and needed the money.

When asked who the insurgents were and why they committed acts of violence, he offered two reasons: They want to control the economic levers of power — the police are paid too well — and Iraq’s neighbors were funneling money and resources into the country to destabilize the government.

I asked another fellow what he thought of the Americans. He said he thought bad and good things. His negative opinion focused on collateral damage — he said that “when the Americans are fired upon, they fire back and kill civilians.”

The positive: “If it weren’t for the Americans, Fallujah would have been destroyed a long time ago.”

Processing continued until the early evening, when the tired Marines counted heads: 102 new recruits would board a plane for the Jordanian International Police Training Center in the morning, soon augmenting the roughly 700 police manning stations in and around Fallujah. Some had been turned away, including a 60 year-old volunteer.

In 2004, the number of police in Fallujah was zero.