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Lejeune battalion calls in air power to clear the road

31 Jul 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment perfected their road clearing techniques recently when they called in air strikes on an abandoned tanker.

Marines called in AV-8B Harriers to drop laser-guided bombs to annihilate the tanker rather than risk Marines' lives to drag it away. 

"We received an intelligence report that there was an explosive device inside the abandoned tanker," said Capt. John C. Bailey, a 35-year-old battalion forward air controller from Raleigh, N.C. "One of our combined anti-armor teams arrived on site first and then a rifle platoon."

Once the elements were on site, a cordon was set to block traffic and clear the area of civilians.  Some members of the unit believed there were terrorists hiding in a nearby palm grove so the air controller arranged a surprise for them.

"We had to cordon the whole area," explained Sgt. David L. Turner, a platoon sergeant for Company E from Parma, Ohio.    "Two rifle platoons formed a 'U' and a CAAT team closed the end.  We used a lot of safety measures and checked the area numerous times."

Marines had reason to be wary of rushing in to drag out the trailer, because terrorists had waited for Marines to arrive and then triggered devices.  The solution was a strike from above.

"We got authorization for two Harrier jets to destroy the tanker.  I had them do a flyover of the palm grove at 3,000 feet," Bailey said.  "We suspected they were going to wait until they saw a convoy of Marines pass by and then set off the explosive device."

Once the bad guys had been scared, the jets were given the order to destroy the tanker using laser-guided bombs.

"Laser guided bombs are the weapons of choice in Operation Iraqi Freedom because of their accuracy and little collateral damage," Bailey explained.

Bailey said the tanker was exposed in a wide, open area making it optimal for the jets to conduct the run.  Normally, ground crews mark targets with lasers, but the pilots were able to mark their own, dropping the guided bomb on target.

Marines were never able to confirm if the tanker was rigged to explode. 

The risk was enough to justify the action, one Marine explained.

"There could have been thousands of pounds of explosives in there and we wouldn't know," the Marines explained.  "If that was the case then it would have been too large to deal with through our normal means, so the air strike was the best method of dealing with it."

Once the tanker was hit, it caught fire and burned the fuel still left inside the vehicle.  Marines on the scene suspected the explosives burned off without exploding.

"Because it didn't throw shrapnel farther than the shrapnel radius of the missiles we think the explosives went off like a firework dud," a Marine explained.  "They ignited and burned but didn't explode."