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Marines take the fight to the streets

7 Apr 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen and Sgt. Colin Wyers

Marines battling enemy forces in Iraq pushed into the city after several days of violent and deadly clashes.

Marines with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, established a forward base of operations inside Fallujah in order to battle back the foreign terrorists and former regime loyalists holed up in pockets throughout the city.

Outside of the walled compound, the distinctive "pop, pop, pop" of AK-47 assault rifles can be heard in the distance. On the rooftops, Marines with M-240G machine guns and M-16A4 service rifles open fire in response to hidden insurgents.

"Our mission is to get rid of all the insurgents in the city," said Staff Sgt. Pedro Marrufo, the platoon sergeant for 1st Platoon.  "There's a lot of fighting going on, but my boys are still motivated. We've been successful."

Inside the building, Marines fresh off post sat in a parlor eating their Meals, Ready-to-Eat. The sounds of rap music from an American Forces Network radio station in Baghdad played in the background.  Infantrymen smiled and laughed with shared jokes and stories, through the din and grime of several days of combat.

The Company E grunts first moved into Fallujah on April 6.  The push into the urban area came after enemy forces from a nearby mosque targeted the Marines' defensive positions on the city's edge. By sunset, Marines moved their foothold into the city.

From there, the company mounted foot patrols on city streets through the city in the following days, clearing buildings suspected of housing insurgents.  The first step, though, was eliminating enemy firing positions from the nearby mosque.

The mosque, as a holy site, was protected by Geneva Conventions accords.  It lost its protected status, though, once enemy forces used the sanctuary to fire on advancing Marines.

Marines entered the grounds, sweeping through and anticipating a fight.  They found it empty.

But even as the Marines cleared the grounds, enemy forces fired rocket-propelled grenades from outside the mosque.  Marines returned fire, quieting the enemy positions.

In the surrounding neighborhood, Marines knocked in metal gates after sawing through them with a gas-powered chop saw.  They swept through room-by-room, talking to residents through a translator.  At times, the locals were just innocents, caught in the crossfire by an enemy mingling in their midst. 

Other times, threats to Marines lurked behind every corner. Firing positions were mounted on rooftops as Marines took on insurgents moving through nearby alleyways.

Company E Marines finally settled on a group of abandoned houses as their base of operations. Searches of the structures turned up photographs of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein and his family, as well as documents and weapons used in attacks against Marines.

Marines in this section of Fallujah haven't sat idle behind walls, though.  Foot-patrols through the surrounding neighborhoods continue, supporting M-1A1 tanks and directing fire from Air Force AC-130 Spectre gunships.

"We will win the hearts and minds of Fallujah by ridding the city of insurgents," said Cpl. Justin M. Rettenberger, a squad leader with 1st Platoon, from Hazelgreen, Wis. "We're doing that by patrolling the streets and killing the enemy."

The Marines have also been working with soldiers from the Army's Company A, 9th Psychological Operations Battalion, in order to communicate with the people around the area.

"We're making our presence known and letting them know we don't plan to leave anytime soon," Rettenberger explained. "We're being successful because we've had families greet us - so we are making an impact here."