Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
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IRAQ: Where it all started

March 22, 2008 | 11:33 am


Marine Staff Sgt. Terrance Gant, 30, of Indianapolis, has been deployed twice to Fallouja.

He was part of the 3rd battalion, 5th regiment when it was a lead unit in the late 2004 battle to liberate the city from insurgent control. Now he's back as the Three-Five is helping in the recovery of the battle-ravaged city.

In a couple of months, the battalion will return to Camp Pendleton. Gant plans to leave the Marine Corps and open a body-building business.

When some Iraqi entrepreneurs decided to start a fitness studio on the main street of Fallouja, the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Dowling, sent Gant to provide advice. Through an interpreter, Gant and the Iraqis talked about muscle groups and how best to tone your abs and delts.

"They're good to go," Gant said.

For the Marines, the Fallouja strategy has a kind of forward-into-the-past feel. In early 2004, when the Marines first arrived, they had hoped to form youth soccer teams and help in business development. But then a mob killed four Americans and hanged two of the burned corpses from a bridge. President Bush ordered the Marines into the combat.

After two assaults, the insurgents have been routed. Slowly, the U.S. was able to begin the kind of programs it had hoped to initiate four years ago.

The bridge, soon to be renovated, remains as a grisly symbol.  "This is where it all started," Gant said on a recent patrol.

— Tony Perry in Fallouja

Photo: Staff Sgt. Terrance Gant in front of the bridge where the burned bodies were hanged in 2004, leading President Bush to order the Marines to assault insurgent strongholds. Credit: Tony Perry/Los Angeles Times