It’s a good thing to see them correct themselves on weapon techniques and handling. All in all, I really don’t think about it too much. They’re just here like everybody else.”
With Iraqis in place, Hayden and the other Marines of 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, are concentrating on advising and observing the transition process.
“Sometimes we sit back and watch to see how they react to certain situations, and sometimes we’ll step in and give them advice,” he said. “The majority of the time they pick up on what we teach them pretty quickly.”
Since arriving in Iraq in the spring of 2003, Marines have contributed to rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq.
“I think as a whole, the Marine Corps, especially my Marines, will be proud of what we’re doing because we are part of history,” he said. “From when I came over in OIF 1 (Operation Iraqi Freedom), until now, it is still a history in progress for the Marine Corps.”
A year has gone by since those Marines came into Baghdadi to provide force protection for the city’s majority-Sunni population. Some Marines still remember the Iraqi policeman who picked up an intercom last year as their heavy armored trucks started to move down the streets of the city. “It’s a gift from God. The Marines are here to help us,” Hayden remembers hearing someone say.
These days, children cheer from the school’s playground, teenagers fish the river and families walk the streets with their arms full of groceries, all signs of security in the prospering town, northwest of Baghdad.
For Hayden, worldwide service is at the core of being a Marine.
“This is what the Marine Corps is supposed to do; we help people,” he said smiling.
Perhaps this is why, despite several deployments, including to Afghanistan, Hayden continues to re-enlist. He also has two brothers and a cousin currently serving in the Marine Corps. As a young man growing up in Kentucky, Hayden always had a desire to wear the eagle, globe and anchor. Not because he had to follow in the traditions of his family, but because he wanted to provide a safer world for his two children to live in.
“If I don’t do this, then it’s possible that my kids will have to come over here,” he said with a slight Southern drawl. “I’d prefer for them not to come over here.”