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FALLUJAH, Iraq — The Fallujah of today is a far cry from in the past, say Marines who have been based here many times in the last few years.

"Forget what you did before; it is a new Fallujah, now," said 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Pickering, 43, from Mobile, Ala., who was based here with the unit from September 2006 to April 2007. The battalion deployed again this spring from Okinawa, Japan, to Fallujah.

"This is a lot better than the last time I was here," said Sgt. Brian Wells, 25, a reserve Marine from Fairbanks, Alaska, who was deployed to Fallujah in 2004 with Regimental Combat Team 1. "Back then it was mortars impacting in the compound day and night."

For Wells, that earlier deployment was about escorting ordnance disposal technicians outside the wire, quick reaction forces, sweeping for bombs and transferring prisoners.

And it wasn’t much calmer in 2005, said Sgts. Michael Collier, 23, a radio operator from Seoul, South Korea, and Daniel Day, 23, a recon Marine from Gaylord, Mich., both of whom were based at Camp Fallujah from March to October 2005.

They would spend just enough time in the compound to wash clothes and fix vehicles and then go back out for five to 10 days, he said.

Day remembers that there were very few armored vehicles during the deployment. They had to protect them by packing them with sandbags and old flak jackets and were often driving vehicles scarred by bomb blasts, he said.

"Now, we all have up-armored vehicles; that’s a big difference," he said.

The battalion’s September 2006 to April 2007 deployment was just as hectic.

There was a lot of indirect fire into camp last year, remembers Sgt. Daniel Janicki, 26, a radio operator from East Haven, Conn. Continual missions outside the wire put a lot of stress on the battalion’s motor transport personnel, said Sgt. Steven Pulliam, 24, a mechanic from Lawrenceville, Ga.

"Last year, most of the vehicles we had coming in were due to [bomb] damage and engagements and this year it’s just because they’re old and worn out," Pulliam said.

And during last year’s deployment, 3rd Recon lost six Marines, Pickering said.

"Here we are in 2008 and incident reports have gone down significantly," Pickering said.

Now, "the Iraqis are not our enemy, the enemy hides among them," he said.

As for the Recon Marines, they’ve hardly been outside the wire, Day said. Instead, they’re training and working out at the gym, Janicki said.

Camp Fallujah hasn’t taken any indirect fire that they know of since the battalion arrived in the spring. The "last time we couldn’t get back to base enough, and now we can’t get off base enough," Day said.

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