Back from Iraq




No day in Fallujah is ever easy.

But for Lance Corporal Vincent Negron one day in June stood out more than some others, part of recollections he gave before the Bayonne Rotary Club on Dec. 19 after his return from duty with the U.S. Marines in Iraq.

Negron, assigned to a U.S. Marines unit station in Garden City Long Island, was on what military officials called "a routine patrol in Fallujah, in the Anbar Province of Iraq during the third week of June responding to report of a roadside bomb and fleeing triggerman.

"We were knocking on doors to inspect when we came to one house when we saw a woman with a sick baby," Negron said.

An official Navel report of the incident said the woman kept saying over and over again, "Baby Sick."

Negron said Iraqis generally don't ask for help, and woman apparently wasn't asking for help at this time.

But one of the Navy medics, who served as an EMT in the United States knew something was seriously wrong, and in fact had never seen before.


The baby, who Naval reports later named as Mariam, looked inside out, with internal organs on the outside.

Negron said that Captain Sean Donovan, a doctor assigned to the First Battalion 25th Marine Regiment knew the baby suffered from a rare condition which the blatter was on the outside of the body instead of inside. Donavan knew that the baby - only a few months old - would not survive without surgery, the kind of surgery performed in hospitals back in the United States.

"Saving Baby Mariam" became a rallying cry among the Marines of Negron's unit, as Marines and civilians began to pull their resources together to help the child get the help she needed.

Negron said the military people had to help the family in secret in order to avoid insurgents retaliating against the family for helping the child.

Back in the United States, civilians connected with churches and businesses, gathered together money to pay for the baby's trip. A prominent surgeon in Massachusetts volunteered to perform the surgery for free.

But getting a civilian out of Iraq apparently ran into several bureaucratic problems, according to a report by the Boston Globe.

Another report issued by the U.S. Marines said the unit became even more motivated when several Marines - including some of those connected to helping the baby - were killed in a roadside bomb, and the unit decided the appropriate way to honor their fallen comrades was to rescue Baby Mariam.

Emails and other communications with brass untied the necessary red tape. Mariam was flown to United States in October for the life saving surgery.

He wanted to go into the Marines in 2001

Negron had planned to go into the U.S. Marines after his graduation from Bayonne High School in 2001.

"I had all the paper work done," he said.

But he delayed something he still regrets a little, although he made the move three years later in 2004.

"I always had it in my mind to go in," he said. "I decided it was finally time."

A mechanic for a Lincoln dealership in New York, Negron's Garden City unit joined a unit in Boston shortly after he finished basic training.

"They apparently were short so our reserve unit was activated to fill in," he said. "We went to Massachusetts for about a month then to California for additional training. We were activated last December and started training in January."

They trained in the California Desert for three months simulating conditions they would eventually face when they reached Fallujah, where temperatures can at times exceed 120 degrees.

His was the first reserve unit in Fallujah

Fallujah is located in the Al Anbar province, roughly 69km (43 miles) west of Baghdad and sits on the Euphrates River.

Negron said his unit was the first reserve to hold down the city, after regular units secured.

Fallujah is not as sophisticated as Baghdad.

"People might wear jeans and other things in Baghdad, not in Fallujah," he said.

The city was also battered from the battle, lacking streets signs and was often victimized by looters.

While his units job was to provide security, it also tried to restore basic services to the city such as restoring santitation systems.

"We were trying to help make living better for those who lived there," he said.

Prior to his arrival, Fallujah was a hot bed of insurgent and criminal activity, partly due to its proximity to the infamous Abu G'raib prison, where Saddam, in one of his last acts, had released all prisoners. While many prisoners of the Ba'athist regime may have been political opponents, this act freed both political prisoners and criminal prisoners alike.

Curfews and checkpoints at each enterance to the city helped the Marines keep the city clear of criminals and others after the previous battles are liberated the city.

"The battle in 2003 swept the whole city and it was part of our job to make sure people who came into the city belonged there," he said. "They had to have proper identification to get in."

He said this was very effective, and continued vigilence by the Marines helped uncover weapons caches and bomb making materials that might have been used later against Americans and others.

Although religious violence is common across Iraq, Negron said the Marines in Fallujah worked with religions leaders from the Sunni and Shiite sects to keep control.

"We have a good relationship with the religious leaders," he said.

One of the problems the Marines had to overcome involved the fact that members of the military and police often had religious affilations and sometimes struggled to work together. His unit sometimes included Iraqi soldiers and police in joint operations to demonstrate how it was possible to work together for the common good.

"We should how to work properly," he said.

Part of LC Negron's training was to learn the culture, religion and some key command words in the Iraqi language.

"I learned a lot," he said.

Negron explained that religion dominates the behavior of the Iraqi's in Fallujah and makes it difficult to impose democratic order.

Fallujah dates from Babylonian times and was host to important Jewish academies for many centuries.

Negron said he would go back to Iraq if asked to out of a sense of duty. He says that the Iraqi people are innately intelligent, but don't want Americans in their country. There is also lots of negative influence by outsiders from Syria and Iran. But he also observed that there has been a lot of good mixed in with the bad.

He thinks of those who replaced him often

Back in Bayonne, Negron often thinks of those who replaced him in Iraq, and wonders how they are doing.

He said soldiers on the front lines crave things from home, small things that remind them of home.

"They want something from their hometown or anything that reminds them of what it is like back here," he said. "They need DVDs and books, especially during the holidays.

"We were there during the Fourth of July and I remember the banners," he said. "It relieves you to know where you're from."

One of the things that helped fortify him came as a result of his mother's work in Bayonne.

"My mother sells real estate," he said. "She sold a home at the Boat Works to the owner of a clothing company. He found out about us and send us a box full of clothing that included hats and t-shirts. It is really great to be wearing a regular t-shirt from home."

During his talk with the Bayonne Rotarians he encouraged the public to support drives sending Christmas gifts to the troops. After LC Negron's talk, the Bayonne Rotary Board voted to send $750 worth of DVDs and other items.

"I think about the next unit that took over when I left, knowing that they are going to go through what we went through, and how they were going to miss the holidays like Christmas," he said. "I keep them in my prayers and I keep those guys always in my mind."





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