FALLUJAH, Iraq – Michael J. Totten is an independent journalist reporting on the war in Iraq. Here is a portion of his latest journal entry provided exclusively for FOXNews.com.
A sign on the door leading out of India Company’s Combat Operations Center says “Have a Plan to Kill Everyone You Meet.” For a fraction of second I thought it might be some kind of joke. But I was with the Marine Corps in Fallujah, and it wasn’t a joke.
I asked Captain Stewart Glenn if he could explain and perhaps elaborate a bit on what, exactly, that sign is about. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he said rather bluntly. “It means exactly what it says.”
Welcome to counterinsurgency.
A sign outside Lieutenant Nathan Bibler’s Joint Security Station in the slums of Fallujah makes the point a little more clearly, and delicately. “Look at everyone as though they are trying to kill you, but you cannot treat them that way.”
“The threat's always there,” Sergeant Chuck Balley told me as he looked blankly at nothing in particular. “Everybody is sketchy.”
Maybe they are. But very few people in Fallujah try to kill Americans – or other Iraqis – anymore. It has been months since a single Marine in Fallujah has been even wounded, let alone killed. But at least a handful of disorganized insurgents still lurk in the city. Once a week or so somebody takes a shot at the Americans.
“Do you have plates in that Kevlar?” one Marine sergeant said to me as I donned my body armor on our way into the city. He was referring to steel SAPI plates that fit inside Kevlar vests that can stop even a sniper round.
“No,” I said, and I didn't care. The odds that I, personally, would be the first person shot in Fallujah for months were microscopic.
“Look,” he said. “You are not gonna get shot. But you should still carry some plates.”
One lieutenant forced me to wear Marine-issue body armor – which weighs almost 80 pounds – before he would let me go out on patrol with him. I felt like Godzilla lumbering around with all the extra bulk and weight, and I didn’t really feel safer.
Running while carrying those extra pounds all of a sudden wasn’t much of an option. Sacrificing most of my speed and agility to make myself a little more bullet-proof might not be worth it.
But perhaps that’s just what I told myself so I could justify wearing lighter and more comfortable armor. It’s hard to say.
What I do know for certain is that Fallujah at the end of 2007 was neither scary nor stressful. No one can go there right now without feeling what is perhaps a dangerous sense of complacency.
But complacency kills. The Marines are reminded of this fact every day, as was I when I traveled and worked with them.
The day I arrived at India Company's Forward Operating Base, which had been converted from an old train station, all the Marines had to attend readiness training classes designed to offset complacency.
“Too many Marines are getting complacent and lax,” Captain Glenn said. “Complacency is as potentially deadly as an IED at this point.”