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Patrols and vigilance keeping insurgents at bay in Gharmah

23 May 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

Some days in Iraq feel like nothing happens at all.  Those are the days Sgt. Levi R. Aherns looks forward to.

Marines with B Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment are constantly in the mix here in this small city north of Fallujah.  Insurgents still battle against Marines and the growing Iraqi Police and Iraqi Army.  It’s a slow, steady progress that isn’t measured in yards or miles, but in immeasurable and often unnoticed victories – like days when insurgents don’t feel safe enough to attack.

That tipping balance against the insurgents comes through the long, sweaty, back-breaking hours Marines spend pounding the pavement.  Marines keep the streets of Gharmah in check by conducting security patrols, vehicle check points and providing overwatch.

“We are making the streets safer by providing a presence in the community,” said Ahrens, a 23-year-old infantryman from Marengo, Ill. “We go out on constant patrols to ensure insurgents don’t get strongholds within the city.”

Marines stepped from the perimeter of their forward operating base May 23, ready for kids wanting candy or insurgents wanting to fight.  It’s a continuous rotation Marines perform day and night, in baking heat and dust-filled skies. 

They have to.  Keeping ahead of insurgent attackers requires constant vigilance.

“We have seen a lot of activity in this area throughout the deployment,” Ahrens said. “What we try to do is come out on these patrols so the people know we are here to help and if possible, stop insurgents before they have the opportunity to attack.”

Marines here have been hardest hit in their battalion since they arrived in January.  Four Marines from the company have been killed in attacks by insurgents.

Still, Marines press on.

“We have been hit quite a few times,” said Cpl. Chad M. Tomey, a 25-year-old machine gunner from Macomb, Ill. “Everyone knows what we are here for, so we keep moving forward.”

Tomey’s had his own close call.  He’s one of many Marines wounded during the deployment.  He was shot by enemy small-arms fire.

Despite this, he keeps a level head.

“I try not to hold a grudge,” Tomey said. “I realize that not everyone out here is the enemy.”

Out on the streets, Marines take no chances.  They zigzagged through the streets looking for signs of activity. They stopped to search vehicles that fit the description of those on a list for suspicious activity.

“We have a BOLO list, or ‘be on the look out,’ list,” said Lance Cpl. Serge H. Hedlund, a 24-year-old machine gunner from Fredericksburg, Va. “When we see vehicles that match one on our list, we check them out.”

The Marines also took up post in an abandoned house to provide overwatch in the area.  While on post, Marine observed the area, looking for suspicious activity or suspicious persons. 

“If anything comes up we are ready to react,” Ahrens said.

The patrol was pretty uneventful for the Marines, a day all Marines hope for.  Each day that passes without shots fired means a better day for the welfare of the people of Gharmah.

“I wish all of the people would realize we are here to help them,” Tomey said. “If that would happen and they started helping us more, we could find the insurgents easier and stop them.”