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Marines keep main supply route safe from attacks

17 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Travel along a main supply route near Fallujah is a little less harrowing, thanks to vigilance of a few Marines.

Marines from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, provide a constant overwatch along the route, keeping would-be attackers at bay and military personnel running convoys breathing easier.  It's long and demanding duty, under the blazing hot sun with temperatures reaching 130 degrees and dark lonely nights, all so improvised explosive devices or ambushes don't have time or space to be emplaced.

So far, they've been the answer to problems that once plagued the stretch of road.

"A convoy has not suffered any injuries on MSR Mobile since we've been there," said Capt. D. A. Zembiec, the company commander. "We undoubtedly are successful."

Just having a Marine presence has simmered down enemy activity, said Sgt. Justin M. Rettenberger, the company guide who is currently serving his second tour in Iraq.

"Since we've taken over route Mobile, we've reduced the amount of IEDs to zero," Rettenberger said.

Still, there is a lingering threat, despite the reduction of IED attacks.  Mortars continue to threaten the Marines.  That threat, however, could soon be eliminated as well.

"If we kill these enemy mortarmen - just take two or three out of the equation - that will make it safer for the Marines out there," Zembiec said. "The mortarmen have still proven elusive, but we'll track them down."

One way the company is gradually ousting mortar attacks is by maintaining a presence in the surrounding villages through foot and vehicle-mounted patrols.

"We can scan the area in greater detail with patrols," explained Cpl. Nicholas H. Scaljon, a fire team leader. "When we're on patrol, we try to draw the enemy out in the open, find them and kill them.  That's what we do best."

Small unit leaders use the route security mission to also train up-and-coming noncommissioned officers to take the lead in conducting their own missions.

"We'll conduct vehicle checkpoints at a moment's notice, but instead of the NCOs running the show, we let the lance corporals do it," Rettenberger said. "We got to let them get practice doing our job, so they can take charge with experience later down the line, because we're not always going to be here."

Still, the biggest challenge to the Marines so far is battling the heat.  July and August present some of the harshest and most unforgiving temperatures here and Marines find themselves battling back its heat during their 48-hour watch.

Platoons are rotated regularly through the outposts to keep Marines fresh for the mission, just one of the simple measures taken to keep from wearing through their strength.

"It can be very slow and monotonous, so you can easily get bored and complacent," Scaljon said.

Still they gut it out in the heat.  Their vigil never breaks.  The Marines continue with their mission, rifles at the ready, sweaty, tired and dirty.

"We're just out here doing our job, which is keeping this stretch of the highway secured," Rettenberger said.