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1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Fallujah's fray

13 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi

Their faces are sunburned and grimy from gun battles throughout the week. Their eyes, though, are bright.

Marines with Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment are part of the cordon around Fallujah, Iraq.  After more than a week of fighting, much of it coming during the suspension of offensive operations, the 1st Marine Division Marines are determined to root out terrorists from this city.

Their mission, Operation Vigilant Resolve, directly supports the I Marine Expeditionary Force objective of bringing stabilization and security to the Al Anbar province.

"We're here to remove all of the thugs operating in the city," said Capt. Phil Treglia, Company A's commanding officer, of Elida, Ohio. "We're making an even playing field for the Iraqi locals, so they can continue to set up their new government."

Positioned on the outskirts of Fallujah, by the Euphrates River on April 6, Treglia's Marines waited for the order to advance.

Marines rolled toward the city under a full moon at 2 a.m. in vehicles before dismounting, spreading out into the night.  They used night vision goggles to maneuver through the maze of city streets.

An Air Force AC-130 gunship lumbered through the sky above the Marines. The plane belched fire on a building where insurgents were firing rounds toward the Marines.  The building was ruined.

Squads of Marines rushed the city as the AC-130 fireworks show ended, systematically moving through houses, searching for enemy personnel and assets - setting the stage for the following week.    

"The adrenaline rush starts kicking in when you first bust open a door to search through a house," said Lance Cpl. Phillip Dennis, an infantryman with Company A's Headquarters Platoon. "You just never know who's going to be behind that door."

Marines searched through hundreds of businesses and homes. The searches turned up caches small arms, ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide vests and materials for building improvised explosive devices.

These Marines are no strangers to combat. A little more than a year ago, they were among the Marines advancing through Baghdad. Since that time, they have not become complacent, according to 2nd Lt. Brian P. Huysman, 3rd Platoon's commander.

"Where a platoon makes their money is all the time leading up to battle," he said.

They spent nearly three months prior to arriving in Iraq on Okinawa, Japan, practicing fighting through city streets.  They completed the Maritime Special Purpose Force and close-quarters combat training to hone their urban environment skills.

The training paid off, evidenced by the week's fighting.

That doesn't mean all went as planned.  The enemy used deceiving positions for their advantage, firing on Marines from mosques and ambulances, both protected by Geneva Convention accords.

Still, since the enemy violated the sanctuary of both, they became legitimate targets.  Marines killed terrorists operating as snipers inside the mosque's tower.  They cleared the area and took detainees. Searching through the mosque, the Marines found anti-American propaganda tapes and pamphlets.

"This is not conventional warfare," said Sgt. Andrew Bullard, an amphibious assault vehicle commander from 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion attached to Company A.

Bullard said he's witnessed enemy forces dressed in civilian clothes, mingling among the civilian population.  He had enemy in his sights who launched RPGs and immediately hid in a civilian crowd.

"We have to gain positive identification before we can waste them," he said.

"The resistance of the enemy is about what I expected," Huysman said. "It hasn't hindered our ability at all to complete the mission."

Company A Marines have the assets; including the support of Amphibious Assault Vehicles to move and place troops to positions that enable them to seek out and destroy the enemy.

When darkness falls over Fallujah, the temperature drops nearly 30 degrees. Wild dogs wail and bark throughout the night. Marines take shifts patrolling and providing security.

Marines manage a few hours of sleep on concrete floors - usually without sleeping bags. Muslim prayers fill the night air.  The cordon continues.  Women and children are being allowed to leave the city.  Men of military age, though, are being turned away.

"I'm not sure how long this is going to last, all I know is we're going to get the job done," Huysman added. "Right now we're one day closer than yesterday."