CAMP MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq -- It had already been a long day for Cpl. Lonnie R. Billings, a driver for the civil affairs detachment with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, here. The 21-year-old from Nashville, Ark., grabbed sleep when he could because he was in for a long night.
"We had a few briefs during the evening and I had to be on my truck at two a.m.," Billings explained. "I've probably had about an hour of sleep tonight. That was during my chow break."
Little sleep and missed meals are almost a rule here. This night was no exception. Billings and a group of the Marines were headed out to the farmland surrounding this city. They were on the hunt for terrorists.
"We're headed out to cordon and search this house and try to catch a possible terrorist," Billings added. "Some of these things go pretty quickly and some of them last all day. I just hope it goes smooth."
Elements of the battalion, including light armored vehicles and reconnaissance Marines, departed the base keeping their headlights off to keep the element of surprise on their target.
While everyone loaded their vehicles and checked their gear Billings smoked a cigarette and waited for the order to move. A scout-sniper team piled into the back of his vehicle and talked about shooting distances and effects of wind - shoptalk to keep themselves alert.
Elements of the battalion rolled out the front gate on time and split off in different directions to their separate targets. For Billings, the target was a farmhouse in a rural area. The vehicles weaved in and out of the sparse civilian traffic on the road at the early hour and finally hit the dirt roads leading to their objective.
The road they had planned to use washed out and they had to navigate around a canal to get to the target house. Dust kicked up into the dawn air as humvees bumped along the terrain. The convoy stopped short of the objective and Marines dismounted. An element of Marines set out to conduct the initial knock while attachments hung back to wait for the house to be searched.
"I've never been in a cordon and knock that has gone completely right," said Cpl. William B. Breaus, a 23-year-old from Houston.
He added every one is different, so it's hard to execute it according to a set plan.
"We basically did what a fire team could do," Breaus explained. "We set up in an overwatch position to provide security in case we were needed."
Marines knocked on the door of the house and through a translator, all the occupants were led outside and the house was searched. One man was detained and no contraband was recovered.
"When I tell my buddies back home I did a cordon and knock, they think it's all high speed, with us charging into a building. It's nothing like that," Breaus said. "We're really polite the whole time and ask them if they wouldn't mind stepping outside so we can look in their house."
When the morning sun had cleared the horizon the Marines walked back to their vehicles with their detainee. After making sure all their vehicles were in working order, they moved back to the battalion's field command and operations center where they checked in and headed back to the base.
They hadn't found a cache of weapons or a group of terrorists plotting their next attack against Marines, but the morning hadn't been a complete waste. Other units in the battalion captured a mortar system, rocket-propelled grenades, a medium machine gun and targeted personalities.