AL QAIM, Iraq -- It's unforgiving duty on the Iraqi-Syria border. Long, hot days drag under the beating desert sun. Endless patrols meander miles of empty road and dunes at night. And it's keeping would-be terrorists at bay.
Marines from 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion patrol the western borders of Iraq day and night. The mission is to catch and destroy terrorist forces illegally entering Iraq.
Most of these are smugglers, a tradition of sorts for Iraqis. Smuggling has been around for thousands of years in this region. It's the latest crop of cross-border activity - foreign terrorism - that has Marines out on the prowl.
"We have to keep Syrians out or have Iraqis stop going into Syria and buy weapons," said Staff Sgt. Vince Peralta, 30, Weapons Company platoon sergeant from Los Angeles. "We have to stop them from using those weapons against Coalition Forces."
Not only are the foreign fighters a concern but also local Iraqis who attempt to cross the Iraqi border into Syria with stolen items and sell it for money or weapons. As odd as it sounds, sheep are one of the hottest commodities.
"Just a week ago we caught a sheep herder trying to cross the border into Syria with stolen sheep," Peralta said. "We have to stop bad people from stealing from Iraqis and make money that way."
The long patrols covering hundreds of miles each day take a toll not just on the Marines, but the vehicles on which they ride.
According to CWO 2 Richard Ortega, from Emmett, Idaho, and the battalion's maintenance officer, LAV crews patrol an average of nearly 6,000 miles a month in an area spanning 600,000 kilometers.
"Most of it through extremely rough terrain," Ortega said.
It's a job they couldn't get done with the relatively light, fast and armed vehicles. The LAR Marines credit their success to the mobility the LAVs have in covering many miles by driving up and down the border.
"With the mobility and strategic planning that we have, we can spot anyone coming across the border fast," Peralta said.
Patrolling the border is no easy task and danger lurks in the powdered desert land. Marines have taken a few hits by landmines and improvised explosive devices.
"Insurgents know we are up here," Peralta said. "We try not to kick out too much dirt so they don't know that we are here."
The schedule is nearly as brutal as the terrain for Marines. It's a non-stop mission. At the beginning of the deployment, crews would be out for a month and then would head back to headquarters for rest. The presence is still constant, but now they have changed to three-day rotations.
Despite the hot weather and rough terrain in the Iraqi border desert, Marines still relish the field.
"I enjoy being out here," said Cpl. Erik J. Orezechowski, 25, from Philadelphia, and a mortarman with Weapons Company. "It's what a Marine does - live in the field. I ask to come out here even when I'm not supposed to. It's an adventure day in and day out."
They do mounted and dismounted patrols throughout the day and night. The cycle keeps the vehicles ready and the Marines fresh.
"It's a good rotation," Peralta said, "I get to see my Marines relax, make phone calls, send e-mails and find out what's going on in the rear, but most important, do maintenance on our vehicles and clean weapons. We have to take care of our vehicles."