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Marines maintain vigil on vital travel route

13 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

The Marines of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment have nicknamed the observation post overlooking the city "seven-story building."

The building, one of the city's agricultural centers, is located along a stretch of road known to Coalition Forces as Main Supply Route Michigan.

"MSR Michigan is one of our most frequently used roads," explained Cpl. Phillip B. McClure, 20-year-old squad leader. "We provide an overwatch to make sure anti-Coalition Forces cannot operate along here."

According to the Trenton, Mo., infantryman, squads from the company rotate the post.

Marines are on guard at any given time keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity in the street 90 feet below.

"Our job is to make sure no one plants improvised explosive devices," said Pfc. Josh J. Hay, 19. "We just look for anything out of the ordinary."

McClure said the task is more difficult than it sounds.

"Some of the normal things the Iraqis do sometimes seems strange to us," McClure explained. "It's up to us to decipher what is normal behavior and what is suspicious activity."

Dozens of Iraqi stores and offices line the sides of MSR Michigan, and thousands of people live and conduct business here. Spotting a terrorist among the masses proves to be
like finding a needle in a haystack, according to McClure.

And the Marines of his squad couldn't agree more.

"This is one of the highest points in Ramadi," Pfc. Jimmy D. Prickett, 19-year-old from Stroud, Okla. "We can see a lot of MSR Michigan from here and we have to pay attention to every car that drives by and every person that walks by."

Prickett said his squad has been fortunate because it has not "seen too much trouble," but that doesn't mean the Marines haven't had close calls up on the roof.

Both he and McClure remembered a few nights ago when they received enemy AK-47 fire directly over their heads.

"We could see the tracer rounds flying overhead. It was just a random act of terrorism," McClure said describing the event. "That's the kind of stuff we have to deal with up here sometimes."

But because the Marines could not distinguish a positive target, they refrained from returning fire.

"My Marines don't like to get fired at and not be able to shoot back," McClure said. "But they don't want to accidentally hit friendly forces or innocent Iraqis, so they know to do the right thing. They're very disciplined."

Although the Marines are dedicated to hunting those who want to harm Coalition Forces and Iraqi civilians, the atmosphere on the roof of the seven-story building is relaxed.

Even the Iraqis who work inside the building don't seem too bothered with the Marine presence.

"It's a pretty secure location," McClure explained. "The locals working here are really friendly to us. They sometimes come here and try to talk to us."

He said many of the visitors ask for medical help from the squad's corpsmen, like Navy Seaman Jared P. White, a 19-year-old from Joplin, Mo.

When White, who describes himself as a corpsman slash infantryman, isn't standing guard, he takes time to aid the Iraqis.

As the day wears on, the Marines who are not standing post have to find things to occupy their time.

"The Marines are really good about finding stuff to do," McClure said. "We read, clean weapons, sleep or reminisce about the old times."

Still, the Marines are quick to remember why they are manning the post. When it's time stand guard, they're prepared to handle anything thrown their way.

"We keep a close on eye on everything that goes on below to protect all the troops and convoys that pass through MSR Michigan," Prickett said.