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CAAT Marines keep Iraqi highways safe

30 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Staff Sgt. Samuel J. Mortimer doesn't carry a badge, but he does have a big gun to go along with the big chip on his shoulder against people who cause problems along his stretch of road.

The Marine from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment's Combined Anti-Armor Team is one of a string of detachments that stretch along one of the east-west highways running through Iraq's Al Anbar Province.  The stretch of road is a favorite for anti-Iraqi fighters to attack convoys, both military and civilian.

Mortimer is out to stop them.

"This entire road all the way to Baghdad is being watched by Coalition Forces," said the 27-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska.  "Our mission is to help keep this highway secured ...  we're like the highway patrol back home."

The threats Marines can't see are the biggest obstacle for these Marines.  Bombs buried along the sides of the roads, hidden in trash, even in the carcasses of dead animals pose one of the greatest dangers.

Still, the Marines have their own ways of keeping terrorists on the run.  They regularly conduct ambush patrols and spontaneous vehicle control points in random locations.

"Sometimes we have runners who've noticed we set up a VCP and they'll try to turn around and go the other way," Mortimer explained.

A "runner" is a driver who attempts to avoid a checkpoint by maneuvering out of traffic and fleeing the area.

"Sometimes they're just being stupid or they actually have something to hide," Mortimer said.  "That's when I send my chase team after them."

Sgt. Eugenio Mejia is a 25-year-old squad leader from Brownsville, Texas.  He sees his mission as fairly simple.  It's a matter of taking care of another Marine. 

"Our job here is to ensure Marines are safe out here," Mejia said.  "The attacks on route Mobile have decreased quite a bit since we've gotten around."

It's isn't just Mejia whose seen the difference.  The missions are almost never-ending.  When one patrol finishes, another takes its place.  There is a constant presence on the roads and Marines are seeing the results.

"We've been successful keeping enemy activity low since we've taken over this stretch of highway last month," Mortimer. "The enemy knows that if they try to come through a VCP, we're going to either detain them or kill them."