The Iraqi army's recent triumph in Ramadi made it clear that its soldiers aren't weren't cut from the same cloth as those who ditched their gear and fled in terror from the Islamic State group in 2014 — and Marines have been a pivotal part of that transformation. 

Iraqi pro-government forces hold flags atop their vehicle near Ramadi on Feb. 10, after they retook the region from Islamic State group.

Photo Credit: Moadh Al-Dulami/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of Marines have been quietly deploying to the war-torn country over the past 16 months to assist the Iraqis fighting to retake hard-won territory, hard won by U.S. troops over the past decade or more, back from brutal ISIS militants. 

As 2015 drew to a close, the Iraqi army hoisted its flag above the center of Ramadi's city center and declared victory. The seven-month struggle to retake the gateway city in western Anbar province was bloody and costly, but dealt ISIS a strategic blow and proved that the Iraqi military — with coalition air support — is capable of sustained offensive operations.

It also opened the door to greater U.S. involvement and a follow-on drive to retake the northern city of Mosul.

But Marines have played a "critical role" in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department's campaign against the terror group, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Marine Corps Times last month. The Marine Corps' mission in Iraq has been a quiet one, in part because ISIS vowed to seek revenge on anyone responsible for bombing the group's strongholds in places like Iraq and Syria. Last year, the group's so-called hacking division released the names, photos and addresses of 100 U.S. troops, calling on supporters inside the U.S. to carry out attacks against them.

"I think we have shown a lot of flexibility," he said.

From April to Oct.ober, for example, Marines with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force–Crisis Response–Central Command flew more than over 8,300 combined flight hours, delivered almost 2.8 million tons of cargo throughout the region and launched airstrikes against ISIS strongholds on a daily basis.

They directly trained Iraqi soldiers and advised and assisted Iraqi leadership to ensure accurate intelligence and precise airstrikes. They kept watch over the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and remote military outposts, and stood at the ready to recover downed aircraft and pilots at a moment's notice. They also worked side-by-side with America's regional allies to prepare them for the fight.

When President Obama announced in June that U.S. troops would reopen the abandoned Al Taqaddum Air Base in Anbar province to directly support Iraqis in the battle with ISIS, hundreds of Marines landed there within hours. They immediately established a defensive perimeter and began construction of what would become a fulcrum for the Iraqi's fight.

A Marine addresses members of the Iraqi army at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in July. The Marines' Building Partner Capacity and advise and assist missions help prepare Iraqi forces who are taking on the Islamic State group.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Jonathan Boynes/Marine Corps

As Defense Secretary Ash Carter moves to dramatically increase operational spending for the fight against ISIS from $5.3 billion to $7.5 billion, even more Marines could find themselves on the ground in Iraq. Here's a look at what Marines can expect from their new Iraq mission.

Advise and assist

Col. John McDonough was on the ground in June when the Marines landed at Al Taqaddum.

"It's an area that folks have looked at for some time; it gained a heck of a lot more attention and urgency after the fall of Ramadi," he said. "We immediately got in there and within 96 hours were running kinetic strikes on the battlespace."

As commander of an advise and assist team from II Marine Expeditionary Force, McDonough deployed to Iraq in January 2015 with a 26-man contingent to directly counsel senior Iraqi military leaders, first at Al Asad Air Base and then Al Taqaddum.

McDonough and his team helped the Iraqis plan their operations. They shared critical intelligence about the enemy and used that information to coordinate airstrikes.

"It was about understanding the battlespace, locating bad guys and then bringing in coalition aircraft on them," he said.

McDonough said he found working with the Iraqis motivating.

Many of the Iraqi generals have been in the fight for more than 20 years, with some having battled against Iran in the 1980s, he said. They had lost their homes, family members or friends to ISIS or al-Qaida. Many had been displaced three or four times, were fired five or six times for because of political or sectarian reasons, and were fighting ISIS with extremely limited resources in the very neighborhoods where they grew up."

A Marine explosive ordnance disposal talks with an Iraqi officer at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in April.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Cansin Hardyegritag/Marine Corps

McDonough said he repeatedly watched 19-year-old soldiers eagerly head into the fight with minimal weapons training and without flak jackets, helmets or any possibility of helicopter medical evacuation.

"To be surrounded by people like that, for whatever their real or perceived shortcomings, combat capability and military sophistication; people you can break bread with, fight next to, see them suffer losses and continue to drive on, that was pretty inspiring," he said.

Making Al Taqaddum operational

Master Sgt. Roy Hall originally deployed as the intelligence chief with an advise and assist team.

Once the Marines got the order to reopen Al Taqaddum, his mission changed and he was tasked to serve as order was received to open the base.he was tasked to serve as the senior enlisted adviser advisor there for the Al Taqaddum Al Taqqadum task force once the order was received to open the base. As he worked alongside the Iraqis, he said he quickly realized they understand the challenges they face. 

"[The Iraqis] understand the challenges in front of them, tThey’re motivated, they’re committed to the fight," Hall said. "They feel they’ve got a good handle on the battlespace and everything’s going in a positive manner; it’s good to hear their fighting spirit’s so high."

Once With his mission changed, Hall was responsible for  found himself at the center of building up the new base and its center of operations, Camp Manion, named after Marine Silver Star recipient 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in Iraq action in 2007. 

Hall said he set out to determine how to sustain the troops who would be living at the once-abandoned air base.

"Obviously we need life sustainment," he said. "There’s got to be somebody who cooks the chow, somebody that fixes the generators and everything else that comes along with support," he said.

Sgt. Zackary Cleveland, a motor transport operator with Marine Wing Support Squadron 372, tightens walls on a barrier at Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, in October. The barriers protect coalition troops operating at an advice and assist site.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Ricardo Hurtado/Marine Corps

Slogging through 125-degree heat in July and incessant cold rains beginning in November, Marines have transformed Camp Manion from a the most spartan outpost conditions to a sprawling complex sustaining hundreds of coalition troops,  and enabling the advise and assist mission.

"Every day this camp changes, continually improves:," Hall said. "My my security forces are improving force protection, my engineers are improving the facilities. ," Hall said. "It’s a phenomenal sight to see."

Securing the base[Base Security]

On his first deployment to Iraq, Cpl. Richard Ortiz was pleasantly surprised when arrived at at the quality of living conditions at Camp Manion – he expected MREs – when he arrived in October for the rotational change, SP-MAGTF-CR-CC 16.1

The As a squad leader with 1st Battalion Battlion, 7th Marines, expected to be eating meals ready-to-eat in the dirt, but life at the base wasn't as bad as he feared, thanks to the work Hall and his team accomplished there. 

Sgt. Kenneth Pate, a squad leader with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, shows 1st Lt. Alexander Wattstein, a platoon leader, the area around Al Taqaddum Air Base, Iraq, during a July patrol.

Photo Credit: Cpl. John Baker/Marine Corps

Ortiz had deployed with about 2,500 members of the Marines' crisis response force for U.S. Central Command, which operates across several countries. Once in theater, Ortiz and his squad were dispatched to Iraq where they're he’s responsible for providing security along to the approximately 130-mile 215 kilometer perimeter of Al Taqaddum — often alongside Iraqi security forces Al Taqqadam, often together with Iraqi security forces.

Ortiz and his Marines His squad work six hours on and six hours off, conducting fixed site security, running dismounted patrols and manning a quick reaction force.

"So far so good," Ortiz said. "It's always raining, always cold, but other than that it's going easy for us; we're always ready for whatever comes our way."

When Through his patrolling, Ortiz spends a lot of time on the outer perimeter of the expansive air base, with eyes on the surrounding area. The infantryman and was initially taken aback by what he saw.

"I thought it was just desert out here," he said. "There are cities, trees, people walking around, cars on the highway. I didn't expect that."

Ortiz was also surprised at how aggressive the Iraqi soldiers are.

"What I saw on the news was a bunch of Iraqis dropping their guns and running away," he said. "From what I’ve seen, they’re a bunch of motivated, hard-chargers with Marines and soldiers backing them up. That’s one of the reasons they’re back in the fight — they see a bunch of hard-chargers behind them and just want to go out there and get some."PULL QUOTE Cpl. Richard Ortiz, a squad leader with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines

Setting up lifelines 

Iraq was new ground for Sgt. Joseph Gerdeman. The 21-year-old had never seen a camel and hadn't been outside the U.S. before getting he got his combat boots dusty last year at Al Asad Air Base.

The Gerdeman, a technical controller with 9th Communications Battalion's Alpha Company, based out of at Camp Pendleton, California, helped keep network and communications' links up and running for the second rotation of SPMAGTF-Crisis Response-Central Command.  Special Purpose MAGTF 15.2.

"I was excited. I was ready," Gerdeman he said. "I had been waiting [to deploy] for a few years. It was kind of a relief."

Gerdeman went through predeployment training before shipping off to Iraq, but said he had no idea what to expect once he got to the communications shop at Al Asad. Those deploying with him hadn't been to Iraq either, so Gerdeman said he got some insight on what to expect from Marines who had. Predeployment training helped acquaint him to the expeditionary environment and 24/7 work routine, but "I had no idea" what to expect, he recalled In his comm shop, "there really wasn't anybody who had been to Iraq." So he sought out other Marines who had gone there "for any kind of insight on how it would be." What were the living conditions like? Meal options? Daily routine?

Traveling through Kuwait, Gerdeman "hit the ground running" when he arrived at Al Asad last spring, and the expansive base became his permanent home for the next seven months. An old, hardened hangar doubled as living quarters and work space. Heaters had warmed the space before portable air-conditioning units cooled the air once spring settled into summer.

"It was blazing hot all the time," he said, which made for grueling days of intensive manual labor-intensive work in the field carrying and laying out fiber optic cables, setting up antennae and scrambling to solve outages.

Sgt. Edward Hooper, an electrician with Engineer Company, Combat Logistics Battalion 1, works on new 12-ton walls around key structures at a base in Iraq.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Ricardo Hurtado/Marine Corps

The gritty desert environment is never kind toon electrical equipment, so blowing sand and dust ensured near-constant attention and cleaning. The Marines quickly realized the open hangar needed some interior walls to better seal off some of their equipment.  

"When we first got there, most of our gear was set up in an open structure in a hangar," he said. That was quickly fixed with an interior walls "to seal that up."

For most of the deployment, Gerdeman said he worked 12 hours on, 12 hours off before shifting to an eight-hour work cycle. "We were pretty short-handed," he said. But his job meant being on-call, so "I sacrificed a lot of sleep," he said.Gerdeman's job He managed ing communications and satellite networks, and served as the primary role as a troubleshooter when things went wrong. , dictated his busy and often-unexpected daily routine of fixing broken communications gear or restoring a major network outage.

The biggest challenge? "Just really long work hours and outages," he said. "Outages were [a big challenge]big ones, especially when we realized it just wasn't something we could fix," he said. So, too, was figuring out how to use new gear and data technology that somehow arrived at the shop and required some on-the-job training so the Marines could use them. And there never seemed to be sufficient bandwidth, he said, although "we made some deals with the Army over there."The Al Asad hangar also houses an Army communications unit as well as civilian contractors.

While things were rough at first, Gerdeman said he managed to share some of his lessons learned with the unit that replaced his once he left Iraq. Though he and his Marines only left Al Asad briefly to work and experience life outside the wire, Gerdeman said it was easy to see that providing seamless communications to the entire task force was a critical part of the Corps' success in Iraq.

 organize a binder of information that he gave to the replacement unit before he and the task force left Iraq. said he didn't worry or dwell too much on his safety through the deployment. Although he worked in comms, the Bakersfield, Calif., native kept in touch with family just like other Marines and soldiers there: Morale-Welfare-Recreation's phone center in tents at Al Asad. "I learned so much while I was there, just from the experience," he said. "I found out things the hard way, ... [but] we got to see all the time how we impacted the mission." he said. While "rough, at first," he settled in and even managed to organize a binder of information that he gave to the replacement unit before he and the task force left Iraq.

Gerdeman experienced little of Iraq outside the expansive air base, traveling a handful of times outside Al Asad briefly to work and experience life "outside the wire."   While he and Marines in his shop didn't train Iraqis or experience combat on his deployment, he said, they helped provide smooth and seamless communications that's critical to the entire task force."We got to see all the time how we impacted the mission," he said, "and it went both ways."

Training the Iraqis

This motivation is due in part to the efforts or Marines such as Staff Sgt. Daniel Arcand is one of the Marines backing up the Iraqi troops.

At Al Asad Air Base, approximately 100 miles west of Al Taqaddum, Arcand directly trained Iraqi security forces to take on enter the fight against ISIS as part of the Marines’ "building partner capacity" mission.

Marines and coalition forces with Task Force Al Asad teach Iraqi soldiers room clearing techniques aboard Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in February.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Tony Simmons/Marine Corps

While Whereas the advise and assist mission is dedicated to supporting Iraqi military leadership through operational advice, intelligence and coordinating air support, the BPC mission directly provides instruction and training to Iraqi soldiers.

"It was everything from small-unit tactics, firearms and weapons manipulation to patrolling techniques — anything a basic infantryman needs to know to fight the enemy," Arcand he said.

On his sixth deployment since 2004, the the XXX with XXX [[please list MOS and unit. GH]]  infantry unit leader with 3/7 has extensive experience working with the Iraqi military.

Unlike some of his previous deployments, Arcand said the Iraqis he trained showed a strong dedication and willingness to learn.

"There's an enemy occupying their country and for the most part, you're going to have people that want to learn how to take care of the problems in their own country," he said.

Most notable, Arcand said, was their significant improvement in firearms handling, both in manipulation and marksmanship. The Iraqis were also incredibly motivated, which sometimes but this also presented a challenge to the trainers.

"They’re in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by the enemy, so keeping them focused on training and not getting overzealous was an issue that we were running into," he said. "[We] were trying to keep them on the scheduled training plan. " he said. "They wanted to just go out and try to fight."

Arcand empathized with this, however. During his 2008 deployment to Iraq, the mission had shifted to developing the Iraqi military, rather than Marines going out and taking on care of the enemy.

"Marines, and infantry Marines in particular, are offensive in nature," Arcand said. "Being on a defensive mission, keeping everybody focused and reminding them that anything can happen at any time, that was the constant focus for leadership over there."

Preparing for crises  [Ground Combat Element]

As commander of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the ground combat element of the Corps' crisis response unit for CENTCOM, Lt. Col. Ross Parrish acknowledged this challenge of indirectly supporting the fight against ISIS.As commander of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, the ground combat element of SP-MAGTF-CR-CC 15.2, Parrish oversaw the range of the Marine’s Marines' crisis response missions to support Operation Inherent Resolve.

This included providing a 24/7 crisis response force in the region 24 hours each day, seven days a week, dispatching providing the security forces to for Al Assad and Al Taqaddum Al Taqqadum, augmenting US embassy security at the in U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and overseeing training with military  as well as conducting training to America’s security partners outside of Iraq.

Parrish said his His Marines demonstrated a great deal of discipline and mental flexibility in adapting to the more defensive nature of these missions.

Whenever possible, they would incorporate offensive measures when establishing defensive positions, he said.

"It's a dynamic [area of operations] and a dynamic enemy, and the conditions that the Marines faced were dynamic, so they constantly improved their positions, like Marines do."

The less kinetic nature of the mission also hit home personally with the Marines. Marines are back in some of the same places they've cleared before, sometimes repetitively, he said.

"Now the Iraqis are fighting to rid the area of Daesh," Parrish said, using another name for ISIS. "It's different because we're fully in a secondary role to support the Iraqi security forces. We're not in the active role that we were before in clearing operations, [counterinsurgency] operations, out living with the Iraqis."

Cpl. Spencer Knudson, left, and Sgt. Mark Herd, both vehicle commanders with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, survey the landscape at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in October. The Marines are providing security for Al Asad, one of several sites in Iraq where coalition troops are training Iraqis to defeat the Islamic State group.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Owen Kimbrel/Marine Corps

Iraqi forces, however, are much more professional and better trained today, he said, and Marines are working very well with them.

In addition to training, Marines also integrate Iraqi forces into base defenses, providing vital experience working as a team to fight against the enemy.

"We used to go with them all the way through the fight," Parrish said. "In this deployment, we're not in the fight with them; we're advising and assisting, providing [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and fire support of their attacks."

The TRAP mission[TRAP]

Just months after the first Marines began deploying to CENTCOM with the crisis response force, Prior to SP-MAGTF-CR-CC’s deployment, Jordanian fighter pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh crashed near Raqqa, Syria, on Dec. 24, 2014 following mechanical failure of his aircraft.

Al-Kasasbeh survived but was captured by ISIS before coalition forces could extract him. He was held captive by the terror group, and militants later filmed themselves ISIS dousing ed him in gasoline and burning burnt him alive.

Now the Marine crisis response unit SP-MAGTF-CR-CC Marines also provides d critical support to American and allied aviators carrying out and its allies in the bombing campaign against ISIS.

Quietly flying above the theater or sitting on a runway at an undisclosed location, the crisis response Marines — whoich deploy with a force - with a detachment of MV-22B Ospreys tiltrotor aircraft — were was prepared 24/7 to respond to unforeseen contingencies, such as security reinforcement, evacuation of non-combat personnel or tactical recovery should a coalition aircraft go down.

"What we were responsible and wWhat we did was develop a scaleable unit that was able to deploy at a moment’s notice," said 1st Sgt. Jason Dicosimo of India Company, which made up the TRAP, or Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel force for 3/7 the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. "Whatever the call was, we were still able to do that concurrent with everything else we had going on at the time."

Prior to SP-MAGTF-CR-CC's deployment, Jordanian fighter pilot Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh crashed near Raqqa, Syria on Dec. 24, 2014 following mechanical failure of his aircraft.

Al-Kasasbeh survived but was captured by ISIS before coalition forces could extract him. ISIS doused him in gasoline and burnt him alive.

TRAP's mission is to prevent this from happening again.

While the TRAP mission is still relatively new, Dicosimo said that although the mission is new, its fundamentals are already deeply engrained in Marines.

"As far as [rapid deployment for] reinforcement or noncombatant evacuation, that’s something we’re always training for," he said. "We ran the gamut of training possibilities of different things we might run into when we got [to Iraq]. wWe trained for TRAP and crisis response, we trained for it all."

An MV-22 Osprey with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 lands during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel exercise in U.S. Central Command in May.

Photo Credit: Lance Cpl. Garrett White/Marine Corps

Late last June, the TRAP force met its first challenge recovering a downed aircraft. When an Air Force MQ-1 unmanned aerial vehicle crashed in a remote area in southern Iraq, the TRAP force was ready.

Within hours of the crash, they descended on the site to recover the drone's sensitive components and destroy its remains, marking the first time one of the Marine Corps' special-purpose Marine air-ground task forces carried out that type of mission, making it "the first completed TRAP mission by either SPMAGTF-CR since inception," according to a Marine Corps press release. [[Matt -- was this something the SPMAGTF CO discussed at the Pentagon round table you were at a few months ago? Just wondering if we can attrib this fact to him instead of this press release. GH     He didn't specifically say it was the first time at the briefing, but did talk about it. MS]]

Embassy security

Far from the dusty tents and field-expedient kitchens of Al Taqaddum Al Taqqadum, grunts SP-MAGTF-CR-CC Marines were also called on to augmenting the Marine security guard detachment already in place at the U.S. Embassy US embassy in Baghdad.

The fine dining, posh living quarters and swimming pools at the complex were not something every Marine gets to experience without formally going through the embassy program, said Gunnery Sgt. Craig Wilcox, an infantry unit leader with 3/7. 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.

"The U.S. US government has obviously poured a lot of money into the facility," he said. "Being part of an infantry battalion, living in these conditions was were very, very unique and much appreciated — especially for a guy like me who didn’t always deploy and sleep on a bed."

The State Department has a long history of working with Marines, and understand what they bring to the mission, he said.

"They're very much ready to take care of the Marines; we were never at a want for anything," Wilcox said.

The long hours standing post for static security, however, didn't come without any challenges, though, and Wilcox said it was vital that his Marines stay on high alert in a place like Baghdad. present a significant challenge.

"It's not something your average 18-year-old infantryman is really excited to do," Wilcox said. "You have to make sure that every day when he goes to post, he understands why he's there and that there's a very high level of government that needs him there on top of the building."

Staying sharp also required nonstop training. When the Marines with 3/7 weren't when not standing post or sleeping, he said they Marines were training, he said.

"We're infantrymen, so we have to be ready for anything to happen," Wilcox said. "[Training] not only kept us sharp as an organization, but it really kept the Marines in check and understanding that you're still a rifleman, you're still in Iraq."

Collecting evidence 

Keeping his Marines motivated during lulls was also on the mind of 1st Lt. Brian Rickards. With changing missions, a leadership challenge

He was the officer-in-charge of the Marines' crisis reponse unit's task force's Llaw Eenforcement Ddetachment, and his team quickly realized their mission was much different than what many Marines came to expect from past combat deployments in the Middle East. It seemed straight forward, at first. Deploy to Iraq and give SP MAGTF 15.2 a unique law enforcement capability. In 1st Lt. Brian Rickards' mind, the task force's deployment as a crisis-response unit for CENTCOM region would differ from Marines' past combat deployments in Iraq.

"I mean, iIt's not the Iraq War," Rickards said. "...You're kind of just walking into the unknown." It's a little bit... different," said Rickards[cqgf], who served as officer-in-charge of the task force's Law Enforcement Detachment. "I honestly didn't have too many expectations at the outset. I didn't know what to expect.""You're kind of just walking into the unknown," he said.

As a crisis-response unit, the SPMAGTF would have no single concrete mission, so Marines had to prepare for a gamut of potential missions. "But we also expected that something could come up," said Rickards, 26, who is assigned to 1st Law Enforcement Battalion at Camp Pendleton. Like many of his Marines, the deployment was his first time in Iraq.

Rickards, a 26-year-old assigned to 1st Law Enforcement Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, led a  and his 20-member detachment ranging from – they ranged in rank from lance corporals to staff sergeants. They brought a mix of skills and capabilities, including . They included four military working dogs, two criminal investigators, eight nonlethal weapons instructors and a correctional specialist. Before deploying, they left, they had spent three months training for in missions including security detail and evidence collection and tactical site exploitation.

Marines patrol inside the perimeter of Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, in October.

Photo Credit: Cpl. Akeel Austin/Marine Corps

His team In Iraq, they fell in on the work of a military police detachment, a smooth transition since they had communicated with the MPs before they left the states. They split its their time and work between the task force headquarters in Kuwait along with  and Iraq, at Al Asad and Al Taqaddum in Iraq and the task force's headquarters in Kuwait bases, dispersing as needed.

"We were pretty mobile," Rickards said.

Rickards said his team was An exploitation analysis cell helped process fingerprints, DNA and other forensic data that's "kind of at the forefront of analyzing information that could can be pulled off the battlefield.," he said.

"We are, in essence, the first line of collection for evidence," he said.  And they were ready to support Operation Inherent Resolve, including any tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel mission.

Missing throughout the deployment – and contrary to their expectations – were the kinetic operations Marines expect in a place like Iraq, he said. as the "kinetic" operation so routine in Marines' prior Iraq combat deployments.

"A lot of them expected more kinetic activity. There was a lot of waiting," Rickards said. "That is more stressful. [Marines] just want to have a mission."

Being part of a crisis response unit can be unpredictable, and things can change quickly given Iraq's The ever-evolving nature of security situation and politics can leave things changing quicklypolicies and politics in Iraq and throughout the region made things "so unpredictable, what's going to happen," Rickards said. That's tougher, he said, to manage over a long seven-month stretch even in a tight-knit unit.

"That was the hardest leadership challenge we faced — keeping the Marines focused on the mission," he said. "..."Sometimes it get monotonous. Sometimes there's a lot of cool things going on."So he set out to keep Marines in the loop. "We had some really great leaders within our detachment," he said. The sergeants stepped up, "so I really had little to worry about."

While he expected to interact regularly with local Iraqi officials or military, Rickards participated in only a few "key leader engagements" during the deployment. These sessions, though, let local leaders understand the Marines' role in their region. "They are responsible for a lot of the things in Iraq," he said. "They were very receptive."

Although they didn't train Iraqi troops, he and his detachment taught classes on non-lethal weapons and evidence collection to many groups of Marines. He also pulled shifts during watches in the operations center, which gave him a bigger picture of what was happening throughout the task force's area of operations.

Unlike, say, a Marine expeditionary unit sailing on naval ships, detachment Marines got no liberty, no port calls, no "R&R" but for a short break near the end of the deployment. The pace was a mix of busy times and lulls in missions. But that's typical for a crisis-response deployment. "Sometimes it get monotonous," Rickards said. "Sometimes there's a lot of cool things going on."

While he expected to interact regularly with local Iraqi officials or military, Rickards participated in only a few key leader engagements during the deployment, which he said helped local leaders . These sessions, though, let local leaders understand the Marines' role in their region. "They are responsible for a lot of the things in Iraq," he said. "They were very receptive."

While his Marines might have been hoping for cool war stories from Iraq, Rickards said they still learned a lot during their time there.

"I think every Marine wishes they had done more, or hopes for a story they can tell down the line," he said. "I don't know if we found that during this deployment, but I think it was a unique experience, regardless," he said. 

Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at

Gidget Fuentes is a California-based freelance writer. She spent much of her journalism career reporting on Marines for Marine Corps Times. 

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