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U.S. Marine Sgt. Douglas Hayden, a machine gunner with Personal Security Detachment, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, waits outside an Iraqi police station while fellow Marines meet with local sheiks and governmental officials, April 11, 2007. Hayden, from Fancy Farm, Ky., was a part of the initial entry to Iraq and now is part of the transition phase to hand the country back to the Iraqi people. U.S. Marine Corps photo

U.S. Marine Sgt. Douglas Hayden
Marine Helps Rebuild a Sovereign Iraq

By Cpl. Ryan M. Blaich
Multi-National Force – West

BAGHDADI, Iraq, April 26, 2007 — It has been one year since a 24-vehicle convoy of Marines rolled into this Euphrates River town to deliver logistical supplies. Marines began fortifying police stations and walking the streets to meet more than 30,000 residents. Today they continue the transition process with the police in the area.

Through the eyes of a machine gunner from Fancy Farm, Ky., currently serving in Baghdadi and previously deployed to Iraq, this country is making great leaps toward self-governance.
 
“The people are getting more involved now,” said Sgt. Douglas Hayden, attached to the Personal Security Detachment, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “When I was over here last time, the people were pretty much standoffish. They didn’t want anything to do with us until the whole thing was said and done. Now, they want to get involved for their country and make things better for themselves.”

Hayden was patrolling the other side of the Euphrates River during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, moving north from Nasiriyah through Baghdad, then back south to Al Kut. This year, Hayden, 32, is a part of the transition process.

“Our main mission is focused on the Baghdadi area,” Hayden said. “It is to be turned over to the (Iraqi police) so they can run it on their own. We are here to facilitate them in any way possible.”

Outside the Iraqi Police Station, in the center of town, more than 50 local civilians lingered and waited for the initial registration phase into the police department. Hayden, a stocky country boy, was outside, waiting for Marines to wrap up their meeting with local sheiks and government officials.

Afternoon prayers echo throughout the city. He has become accustomed to Iraqi culture and even shares a living space with them in the military housing complex on a combat outpost, a stone’s throw from town. Hayden said there are many differences between Iraqis and Marines, but they are easily overcome. Not everyone is immediately comfortable sharing a base with Iraqis armed with loaded AK-47s, he said.

“Sometimes, it’s nerve-racking because some of them really don’t have a good concept of weapon safety,” he said. “But most of them do and they come by and correct each other.

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.”

Last Updated:
04/26/2007, Eastern Daylight Time
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