News and Events
From the Frontlines: Alumna Carrie C. Batson, Captain USMC
By Carrie C. Batson, Captain United States Marine Corps
Introduction by Jovie Baclayon
When Carrie C. Batson enrolled at Seaver College, gazing across the rolling hills to the Pacific Ocean, she never imagined being caught in the center of a combat zone fighting to free the citizens of Iraq. But Batson was always struck by Pepperdine’s philosophy of “Freely ye received, freely give,” and upon receiving a degree in history in 1999, she joined the United States Marine Corps. “After I graduated, I began looking for something that would allow me to serve,” she says. “I also wanted to travel around the world, be physically active, and do something challenging.”
Little did she know how challenging it would become.
In 2002, she participated in training exercises with the Jordanian and Kuwaiti militaries, and conducted the largest humanitarian assistance operation in recent years in East Timor. In 2003, she was sent to Kuwait and then to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her biggest test came in 2004, when she set out to Najaf, Iraq, where she was stationed for nine months -- the longest Marine unit deployment to date.
She has spent most of her time with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), a deploying force of 2,200 Marines and sailors. As a public affairs officer, she is a spokesperson for the Marine Corps and responsible for sharing the Marines’ achievements across the globe. She is also in charge of a handful of enlisted Marines who serve as combat correspondents and photographers.
Batson and the 11th MEU returned safely at the end of February 2005 to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, California. The following is her first-hand account of her experience in Najaf and her hopes for the future of Iraq:
Najaf is the holiest city for all Shiite Muslims in Iraq. It is the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. It is the home of the 10th century Imam Ali Shrine and the holy Wadi al-Salem Cemetery -- one of the largest, if not the largest in the world. The Shiite people believe the cemetery, called “Valley of the Peace,” is a part of heaven.
When we arrived here in July, Najaf was anything but heaven. Sadr's militia had taken over the town and was terrorizing the locals. On July 31, we assumed responsibility for Najaf, and on August 5 we found ourselves in full-fledged combat after the militia launched numerous attacks on Iraqi security and MEU forces, including shooting down one of our helicopters. For the next three-and-a-half weeks, Marines and Army soldiers fought the militia, who based their operations out of the holy shrine, cemetery, schools and medical clinics. On August 26, Sistani brokered a peace deal between Sadr and the Iraqi Interim Government. Najaf has been quiet ever since.
Everywhere we go, the locals wave and cheer. We have worked hard to gain the trust and confidence of the Najafis, and have enjoyed a good relationship with them as a result. In five months, we've spent more than $32 million on 370 reconstruction projects and disbursed $9 million in compensation to Najafis who experienced property damage, injury or death due to the fighting. We trained 7,600 Iraqi security forces during this time, and on Election Day, they provided 100 percent of the security, without incident. Marines enjoyed the day off, watching the elections on satellite television.
After my time in Najaf, and talking with numerous media about other regions of Iraq, I feel hopeful about the future. While there is still a long and difficult road to travel, and successes must not be taken for granted, the majority of Iraqis want a free and democratic Iraq to succeed. They want peace, they want freedom, and are therefore willing to endure the ups and downs until the country stabilizes.
Iraqis are a resilient and proud people -- much more than we realize -- and as we saw with elections, have the ability to be defiant in the face of violence. As they spat on the remains of a suicide bomber on their way to the polls, or screamed out loud that incoming mortars would not stop them from voting, the Iraqi people made themselves a part of the solution. While the southern Shiite and Northern Kurdish areas of Iraq are largely peaceful, there is still much work to be done in other regions. Ultimately, the Iraqi people themselves must be the ones to decide the end state. Though the situation is very complex and there is still much work to be done categorically, I feel positive about the future.