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Lejeune Marines roll through Mahmudiyah with titans behind them

27 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Patrols are a dangerous business in Mahmudiyah, but they just got safer for Marines of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, thanks to a whole lot of rolling steel. 

When the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Marines moved back here, they brought with them the 70-ton titans of the battlefield - M-1A1 Abram tanks.  A detachment from 1st Tank Battalion's Company B joined the infantry Marines for the move. 

"If we can save a Marine's life by leveling a building so he doesn't have to go into it, we've done our job," said 1st Lt. Matthew A. Stiger, a 25-year-old tank platoon commander from Colorado Springs, Colo.  "The Army had a lot of success with tanks here, so we're using them hoping to experience the same results."

Part of the success of using tanks in the area comes from the lasting effects of Saddam Hussein's regime, Stiger said.  The regime used their tanks as symbols of power.  They would often park a tank in the middle of a town as a symbol of Saddam's power.  The tanks have a similar effect on Iraqi insurgents today.

"It's kind of a letdown when we get called to a firefight," Stiger said.  "When (terrorists) see our tanks, they usually scatter."

Infantrymen are glad to have the tanks aboard.  Bringing a 120-millimeter smoothbore cannon capable of striking the enemy at 4,000 meters makes the tank a "howitzer with treads."

"It's great having them out here," said Lance Cpl. Jaime A Hurtado, a 21-year-old Company G rifleman from Queens, N.Y.  "Instead of waiting to go through all the channels to call for a fire mission, we've got the tanks right there with us.  The bad guys know they're about to get (messed) up when they see the tanks rolling in.  We're really glad they're here to help us."

The infantry is focused on keeping the major supply route near their camp open.  This allows supplies to make their way into major cities like Baghdad and Fallujah.  The tanks are key tools to the success of that mission because of their presence, their firepower and the punishment they can take.

"One day we were ambushed and insurgents shot thirteen rocket-propelled grenades at one tank," Stiger explained.  "No one inside the tank was injured.  That's our company's record for the fire a tank has taken."

The durability of the tanks is due to the thick sheet or armor surrounding the beast.  This makes it a heavy and dangerous weapon, even from the inside.

"Anything you do wrong with a tank could kill you," explained Lance Cpl. Victor F. Lopez, a 21-year-old tank crewman from Seattle.  "The gun has a 13-inch recoil on it, so if you're not in the right spot inside the tank when it fires it could take your head off.  It's a big machine with a bunch of human parts operating it.  We all have to be careful and act as a team at all times."

Lopez said he respects the tank he helps control and also enjoys his work.  Although temperatures can reach more than 110 degrees on a hot day the Marines still wouldn't trade their jobs with the infantrymen on the ground.

"We have a saying: We don't carry our weapon.  Our weapon carries us," Lopez said.  "One of the best parts of our job is that we don't have to walk to battle."

Tank crewmen practice their trade repeatedly until they do their jobs in one smooth movement.  Lopez said they can identify a target, load and fire a round in a matter of seconds.  

Being quick and accurate is what the infantrymen count on the tanks to do.  The tank crewmen work hard in order to be an asset to the battalion.

"With our heavy machine guns and tanks, the enemy would have to be stupid to mess with us," Hurtado said.