Last week, I reported on what was probably the biggest gunfight the Marines have seen in this part of Iraq since April. It began during a routine patrol along the main highway near the government center when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated to start an ambush on a Marine convoy. The firefight lasted over four hours and resulted in nearly 75 enemy insurgents being killed, captured or wounded.
But Ramadi is a study in contrasts. While Marines and soldiers engaged the enemy in a violent gunfight one day, the next day was quiet. Marines went out on a much more typical patrol in Ramadi, and it turned out to be a very calm day. That same city in which troops were being targeted just 24 hours earlier, was, the next day, peaceful and still. Locals were walking around on the streets, opening their shops and greeting U.S. forces warmly. In fact, a few Iraqis even offered us vegetables.
I asked Cpl. Jared McKenzie -- the 1st Section Leader of the 3rd Mobile Assault Platoon in Weapons Company -- about that. McKenzie and his unit arrived here in Iraq in February from Camp Pendleton. He estimates that since his arrival, just under six months ago, he's been on approximately 150 patrols -- which means he and his fellow Marines don't get much downtime.
McKenzie told me that most patrols do not involve gunfights -- that they are uneventful and calm. "Sometimes it can be confusing, but you just have to be aware of what may happen," McKenzie said. "We go out there every day ready for whatever comes our way. We're infantry, so this is what the Marine Corps trained us to do. They taught us to always be prepared."
I asked McKenzie if those infrequent, but sudden transitions from peace to violence affect morale. He told me that "morale is very good. In our platoon, we work as a family, as one unit."
Morale was boosted further two weeks ago when Gen. Michael Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, visited his Marines in Iraq. I asked Sgt. Michael Williams of Weapons Company, who has been here since February, how important that visit was.
"It was extremely important to morale and to all the Marines. It reminded us that the people back home really support us, especially our higher-ups," Williams said.
When I spoke to the commandant, he showed great pride in his Marines. Their job, he said, "is difficult. But, are they making a difference? Are they helping the Iraqis to help themselves? Absolutely," he said. "And, if you call that winning, then we probably are."
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.