Ed. Note: Baghdad Dispatch is now written by two Marines with local connections; Marine Capt. Mary Noyes, an attorney, and Marine Maj. Meredith Brown, an Iraqi Women’s Engagement officer. Their respective columns will appear in alternate months. Noyes moved to New Orleans in 2006; Brown is a native of Marrero.
I am from Marrero but find myself in Camp Ramadi Al Anbar, Iraq these days. I am a Marine Corps officer deployed for a one-year tour as the Iraqi Women’s Engagement officer. Marines have the image of being in excellent physical condition so I try to maintain that image by running on a regular basis.
When I run on Camp Ramadi, I’m struck by the absolute contrast between the running experience here and the running experience in New Orleans. I used to run frequently through the Bywater neighborhood into Faubourg Marigny, across Esplanade Avenue and into the French Quarter. I always enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of New Orleans early in the morning – the hissing and banging sounds of garbage being collected by the SDT truck; the slamming of screen doors and footsteps falling on sidewalks as people move in a steady pace toward their cars so they can drive off to work; the fluttering sounds of newspapers as residents sitting on their stoop drink their morning coffee and read; the smell of fresh pies being baked at the Hubig pie factory on Desire Street; the scent of honeysuckle growing on an old fence; the sight of people watering the plants on the porches and sweeping the sidewalks in front of their homes – always willing to smile and say good morning; the sight of the famous Port of Call sign hanging from the eaves in front of the restaurant’s entrance and the occasional sight of someone slumped against a stoop sleeping off their party from the night before. The warm humid air clings to my skin like a lingering kiss – a kiss from the city that I love.
At Camp Ramadi, I’m greeted by the foul smells of the vacuum truck that sucks out the waste in the port-o-johns – I can smell the truck before I see it. I see other service members out for their morning runs who greet me with a slight wave of the hand. I hear convoys of cargo trucks and their military escorts as they pass me by kicking up the dust from the road, air that’s dry and harsh reminding me that I’m now living in a harsh environment as a visitor – and not always a welcome visitor. I am grateful that my run isn’t disrupted by indirect fire (IDF) of mortars or rockets. But the potholes in the road that were created by IDF are a constant reminder that not everyone in Anbar appreciates our efforts to help stabilize this province and assist their citizens and government officials with developing their nascent democratic form of government. Thankfully, these potholes were created many months ago, before my arrival in February.
The decrease in violence is an indication of a job completed – almost. Now that security has improved and Anbar is benefitting from more peaceful times, the real work of nation building has begun in earnest. This is the time when complaints about the lack of access to steady electricity, clean water and fuel become louder. This is the time when it becomes apparent that the desires of elected officials to form and be a government aren’t matched by their knowledge and experience of how to practice governance. If the essential services required by the people of Anbar aren’t met and if they feel that their government isn’t working for them, then there’s the potential that they may seek other alternatives to a “democratic” form of government. These are the thoughts that “run” through my mind as I complete my run at Camp Ramadi. Gone are the days when my thoughts during my runs back in New Orleans dwelled on whether or not I should have a tuna fish sandwich in the Marine Forces Reserve (MARFORRES) cafeteria or an oyster poor boy from Frank’s Meat Market during lunch. Those days have been replaced with worries about my next trip off the base and whether or not my meeting with my Iraqi counterparts will be productive. Will we be able to rebuild Anbar or will we be stuck in a never ending cycle of rebuilding as New Orleans seems to find itself in today? I hope to be able help to provide some of the answers to that question in follow-up articles during the remainder of my tour of duty in Anbar province.