Letters Home: I'm almost out of a job — and that's good

By By Capt. Ted Vickers,

FALLUJAH, Iraq — August is in full swing here, and the Marines of Regimental Combat Team 1 seem to be hitting our stride in our 13-month deployment. The temperature’s still average above 115 nearly every day, and even the evenings seem to be unbearably hot, yet the Marines continue to adapt and overcome, seemingly thriving in this miserable weather. I too find myself actually adapting quite well to what would ordinarily be complete misery. Much like the Marines I can say first hand the same could be said for al Anbar province, Iraq.

Over the past eight months I have been here I have seen this area take huge strides in security, essential services and governance. And I can confidently say that no matter who we choose as the next president that a drawdown of troops, especially here in al Anbar, is inevitable. Not because of the person in office but because of the people of Iraq.

Recently you may have seen a clip on the news of a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Fallujah. Yes, I am not kidding, there is a Kentucky Fried Chicken in downtown Fallujah — the same Fallujah that was the heart of the insurgency a short time ago. While the authenticity of it being an official KFC is highly doubtful, the fact that a business modeled after an American franchise is successful in downtown Fallujah further emphasizes the fact that the local populace has turned the corner. Not because they are moving to capitalism, but because anything western or symbolizing American ideals would have been destroyed by the insurgents that infested the city just a short time ago. And while I am sure it was not an official KFC, I have to admit it was much cleaner than most of the ones I have been to.

Another milestone in the region over this past month was the various conferences held throughout the province. The “Women of Tomorrow” conference in Ramadi gathered together numerous women for a series of lectures and to set up an adviser board that serves to advise the governor of the province on issues concerning women. Something that could never have happened during the height of the insurgency, when the strict Al Qaeda-imposed Islamic law forbade the empowerment of women.

Other recent conferences were the youth and medical conferences, both held in the capital of al Anbar, Ramadi. At the youth conference more than 3,000 school-aged children gathered for some fun and learning, they received speeches from local leadership and took in a few soccer games. Events like these are critical in giving the children something to do while school is not in session; it builds a sense of national pride and community utility as well as giving them options instead of turning to criminal behavior or terrorist activities. In the past Al Qaeda would routinely target school-aged children in the hopes of using them for suicide attacks.

And speaking of soccer, I am continually impressed on how big of a sport soccer is here; it seems that on every street, open field or dirt lot, you can find children engaged in a soccer match, something that would have been unheard of just a few years ago. Just recently there was a series of soccer tournaments held in each district. The winners played in a four-day soccer tournament, which culminated in a friendly match between Marines and the local Iraqi Police.

The medical conference was yet another great leap forward in a month that seemed to be full of giant strides towards peace and security. More than 100 doctors gathered together to share information, ideas and techniques with their American counterparts. One of the highlights of the conference was to observe a surgery in which a female patient’s brain tumor was successfully removed. Without improved security and the local leadership's willingness to improve their medical abilities this conference would never have happened.

When you think of being deployed to combat; firefights, explosions and other various things always come to mind, but for the most part in al Anbar they are gone, replaced by construction, community events and conferences. When I first arrived these things were beginning to take place. However, they were usually initiated by the Marines or their embedded provincial reconstruction teams, and the Iraqis just went along with them, like a child being told to eat their vegetables because they are good for them.
Now, it’s totally changed, the local tribal and governmental leadership along with the various Iraqi Security Forces have embraced these social and economic issues, not because we are telling them to, but because they understand it’s in their best interest. It has even gotten to the point where we don’t even provide the security anymore. The Iraqi Police in both the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah have become a self-sufficient force requiring minimal to no supervision and guidance.

I have been amazed by the progress over the past months, and I look forward the progress that will be made in the near future. All I can say for certain is that it seems the Iraqis plan is to work us out of a job, and I congratulate them for that.

Capt. Esteban “Ted” Vickers is a Marine currently serving with Regimental Combat Team 1 in Fallujah, Iraq. He is a 1994 graduate of Fruita Monument High School and is a Fruita resident.