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Recon Marines hunt the Zaidon nights

16 May 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Insurgents beware.  That bump in the night might just be a Recon Marine aiming in.

Marines of B Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5 own the night here.  When the rest of the world quiets down with the setting sun, these Marines are gearing up.  This is their witching hour.  They thrive in the darkness and keep insurgents on the run.

“I feel very comfortable working at night,” said Sgt. Aaron C. Torian, a 28-year-old team leader from Paducah, Ky.  “I feel safe because I have concealment.”

Life is different under the night optical devices.  Not only is everything in view bathed in a grainy-green hue, it’s almost as if world turns on it’s head.  Marines said their senses become keener.  Survival instincts kick in and they turn to primeval predators.  They hunt under the darkness, aided by their night optic devices.

“We’re used to working with the NODs,” Torian said.  “Since your vision is limited, your hearing becomes enhanced.”

Cpl. Michael J. Ruttenber said he’s “just as comfortable as the day time” working with night vision. 

“It’s kind of routine at this point,” said the 24-year-old Ruttenber for Westwood, N.J.  “Most of us are use to it.  We don’t put much thought into it.”

Still, he said looking out for danger under NODs makes him more aware. 

“Everything goes to sleep at night, so you notice things you wouldn’t before,” Ruttenber said.  “You notice things you wouldn’t before.  You pay more attention to the finer details at night.  In the day, you might see a 55-gallon drum.  At night, you might take a second look.”

The Recon Marines rely on the NODs for greater stealth.  They can slip into villages unnoticed.  They hold an advantage over insurgents who also stalk the night.  The insurgents can’t see them, even as Marines aim in for the kill.

“I’m real comfortable with night vision, especially when they don’t have them” said Cpl. Billy M. Newby, a 27-year-old from McMinnville, Tenn.  “We can operate when they can’t.  It’s about being up close and personal.  We can get a lot closer at night.”

Newby explained on one operation he and another Marine took cover inside a brick pump house at night when a local farmer came to the hut.

“He walked in and was within a few feet and never saw us,” he said.

That ability to close the distance to within a fist’s distance is chilling to the enemy too, Torian said.  They know Marines are moving about at night, stalking them.  Insurgents who dare to creep into the night do so knowing that they are likely doing so under the green, scratchy haze of a Marines night optic.

“We always keeping them moving,” he said.  “It’s got to keep their anxiety level high.”

“Knowing nothing’s going to get in our way has to have some effect on them,” Ruttenber added.

Navigating the winding dirt roads of the rural farming areas south of Fallujah in the envelope of the night air is a safeguard not just for Marines, but local Iraqis who fear being seen cooperating with Marines.  That night concealment gives them a way of speaking without being seen by neighbors, or worse, insurgents.

“We can go through their yards without being seen,” Torian explained.  “A lot of people who give us information would rather talk at night.”

Most important to reconnaissance Marines, though, is the ability to stay on the job for hours at a time, day into night.

“For Recon Marines, no matter what, you’re going to put extra time on the clock,” Torian added.  “We just put on the NODs and keep going.  We have that advantage over them.”