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Marines continue lookout for enemy with patrols

28 May 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Cpl. Matthew W. Weikert walked through the small and winding streets if this town of about 30,000.  It's a day-on and day-out duty for the infantry Marines who walk the beat here. 

They are out to be seen, a reminder Marines in Iraq won't let terrorism back into this town.

Marines from Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, moved out in presence patrols from their forward operating base at the town's police station.  Sometimes, the Marines are mounted on the backs of humvees.  Other times it's on foot.  What it's not, though, is routine.

"We can't treat each patrol as routine because if we do, that's when things go bad," said Lance Cpl. Matthew W. Weikert, a 23-year-old from Jacksonville, Ill. "I can't count how many patrols we've done out here, but I treat each one as if it's my first one."

Weikert sometimes walks "point" for his platoon and even the company.  He's out front to see any enemy ahead.  He's also the first one enemy ahead see.

"I don't like being in the back because I don't know what's going on," Weikert said. "I love being point man."

For the last three months, the company has dispatched squad-size elements on dismounted patrols, using the Nassir Wa Al Salaam Police Station.  The patrols are a lot quieter than they once were.  Gunshots are fewer, but still there.  The Marines know that every step they take through the town, brings them closer to ensuring terrorists can't take refuge.

"It's mainly presence patrols that we conduct throughout the city," said Sgt. James C. Henninger, a 29-year-old squad leader from Aliso Viejo, Calif. "The patrols serve as reminders to the people that we're still here and we're not leaving any time soon."

Finding the enemy isn't always the goal for the Marines.  Sometimes it's a matter of finding signs of the enemy such as built-up bunkers or reinforcing homes.  Both are signs of possible ambush sites.

"We usually concern ourselves with anything out of place, like vehicles that drive around more than once and honk," said Henninger. "There's probably something wrong when there's a lot of honking going on, or when we don't see any kids around."

There are signs that things are getting better.  When Marines first patrolled here, there were no friendly waves.  Iraqis steered clear.  Some would cast wary glances.

Now, there are signs that Marines are welcome.  Children step out of doorways to wave at passing patrols. 

Lance Cpl. James P. Kohler, a 20-year-old from Grand Terrance, Calif., said being able to interact with kids is a sign of trust they've earned with local Iraqis.

"It's great to have the kids around during our patrols because it gives us a chance to talk and interact with them," Kohler said.  "This... used to be very quiet and no one would wave at us, but now it's totally different." 

Henninger doesn't let his guard down though.  He recently discovered a note left by a terrorist group asking surrounding families to keep children away from the Americans because it prevents them from shooting at Americans.

"They have to be some cold-hearted bastards if they choose to shoot at us with kids around," Kohler said.

Despite the finding, Kohler said they have not received any enemy contact, but plan to continue befriending their hosts.

"They know we're here to help them, get rid of the bad guys and keep them safe," Kohler said.
"We want to help build up their economy, so they have a foundation to work on when America pulls out their troops."