AN NASIRIYAH, Iraq -- Waking up before sunrise, Marines with Trailer Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 2/1, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) have their faces shaved, teeth brushed and were ready to begin the day walking the streets to strengthen the local relationship between Americans and Iraqis.
Fully loaded with their combat gear and their canteens filled to the rim, the Marines stepped off to begin their journey throughout the town.
As they entered one of the neighborhoods, children of all ages and sizes came rushing toward them saying, "Saddam bad, Bush good." Ten children immediately surrounded one Marine so he took a few seconds to shake their hands and tell them that he's here to help.
"I love walking around the town because then I get to interact with all of the children," said Cpl. Mark A. Bruns, 22, an El Paso, Texas, native, grenadier, Trailer Platoon. "They make me feel young again, and I like to make them laugh."
Continuing with their patrol, the children followed the Marines as if they were celebrities.
"From every house we passed by, you can see people waving to us, and that feels good," said Sgt. Ben Conner, 26, a Newark, Del., native, team leader, Trailer Platoon, "The kids are all ways coming up to us and giving us a thumbs up, but most of the time they just what to be around us."
Because news travels around the village quickly, nearly every kid was standing at the side of the road when the Marines came back through on their patrol.
"To me, it feels like I'm the star of a Disney Parade," said Cpl. Clinton H. Fields, 22, a Duluth, Ga., native, grenadier, Trailer Platoon. "I've never been surrounded by so many kids before just wanting to know my name. It felt like I was a celebrity or their favorite sports star."
Making their final pass of their first stop, the children gathered together at the end of the village to wave goodbye before wandering back home.
The team then traveled to the next sector and although it was a different neighborhood, the Marines got the same result.
"I don't know what it is, but where ever we go, the kids want be around us," Bruns said.
Bruns, who was rapidly surrounded by 15 children, decided to stop and talk with them during a security halt. A short while later, the children starting clapping their hands and yelling, "disco, disco, disco!"
Not afraid to show his softer side, he started to sing and dance for the kids, teaching them a few dance moves.
"The kids kept asking me for food and water," Bruns said. "Since I didn't have anything to give them, I gave them laughter. I taught them everything from the 'cabbage patch' to 'raise the roof' to 'the bus driver.'"
An elder soon came out to see the festivities and later invited the Marines to his house for a light lunch and some tea for entertaining the children.
After carefully approaching the front porch, the elder motioned for the Marines to sit down and relax while he prepared the tea.
"I was surprised that the old man invited us into his house, because even though the kids have almost instantly accepted us, the adults are a little more reserved," Fields said. "You could tell he's been around for a long timeb-- he's salty. When he saw that we were not trying to kill or steal anything there, he showed us a little bit of appreciation."
The Marines thanked their host in the native language after finishing the food before they headed out to continue their patrol.
Children cheered and clapped as their heroes walked through the front door.
One child, who had an injured right foot, came up to Bruns and asked him for help.
"A little boy came limping up to me and showed me his foot," Bruns said. "As I took off his sandal, I saw that he had a gapping flesh wound, probably cut by glass while playing football. I noticed that the wound was extremely dirty, so I took some water out of my canteen and washed the wound clean. After it was clean, I put on a Band-Aid and wrapped his foot in gauze."
After the basic first aid, Burns and his team carried on with their mission. An hour and a half into the patrol, the Marines went to the third section they were assigned to patrol.
Being no different from past neighborhoods, the children came in hoards. Conner, who led the patrol, stopped to say hello.
"It feels like I'm the ice cream man, one kid sees you and then he yells at all his friends to come out," Conner said.
Walking through the war torn city, Marines could see bullet holes and remembrances of unexploded ordnance still linger in some areas.
An Iraqi schoolteacher stopped the patrol to inform them that there's a bomb nearby. "He said that there was some kind of explosive at the school, and he asked us if we would look at it," Conner said. "So we pushed a little outside of our [area of responsibility], but when we got there, the neighbors told us that Marines had already taken care of it."
The patrol pressed on after discovering the threat had already been eliminated. Now heading back to their position, Fields took the lead and decided to walk through an abandoned amusement park.
The Marines found two destroyed Iraqi tanks in front of a Ferris wheel. Carrying on, they headed into an open area to discover the BLT 2/1 Executive Officer, Maj. Neal F. Pugliese, searching for a possible mine.
"We stopped by to say hello, and he said he was looking for a toe topper," Conner said. "We were already on patrol, so we thought we would help out."
They patrolled to their last section and didn't find any mines or anything dangerous.
More than two hours into the patrol, the Marines decided to take a rest. Less than five minutes into their break, children had gathered again.
Because the city is still trying to recover from the war, there are still dangerous neighborhoods in Nasiriyah, Conner said.
"Right now we're kind of like police -- we walk around to show people that we're still here," Conner said. "Anytime one of the locals lead us to something or we uncover it ourselves, that's just one more piece of ordnance that a kid is not going to trip over."