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Marine sniper team foils roadside bomb attack

23 Aug 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

On one of the deadliest roads here in Iraq, Camp Lejeune snipers made sure one group of insurgents wouldn't be planting any more bombs.

Improvised explosive devices - roadside bombs - are placed every night along Alternate Supply Route Jackson to hit coalition forces when they pass through, earning it the name 'IED Alley.' The sharpshooters of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment crept into position Aug. 23 to stop to the attacks.

"When I saw two Iraqis get out of the van and begin to feed a spool of wire into an abandoned van, I thought 'this is too good to be true,'" said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeff L. Pursley, a corpsman assigned to the battalion's sniper teams.  "We made them all sorry they ever thought of trying to set an IED on the road."

Improvised explosive devices are the number one threat on the road for military convoys.  Easy to create and employ, they are the insurgent's choice for harming troops.

"Jackson was the alternate supply route until Tampa was closed.  Now all convoys travel through it to get where they're going," said Sgt. Devon E. Ambrose, 26, the intelligence chief for the battalion, from Belltsville, Md.  "Insurgents know we use the road on an everyday basis and that an IED will affect our convoys in a negative way."

The snipers were out to change that.

The night began as usual for the two sniper teams involved.  They hid along the road and waited until they spotted something suspicious.

"We saw a tractor driving down the road with its headlights off ... and then a van that flashed its lights at the tractor," said Pursley, 27, from Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.  "That alerted us and when the van pulled over next to the vehicle parked on the side of the road we knew something was up."

The two sniper teams confirmed what they were seeing with each other over the radio and then acted.  The teams quickly and silently moved in for the kill.

"We were about 75 yards away from their position.  I told each man in my team to pick a target," said Sgt. Joshua M. Clark, a 27-year-old sniper team leader with the battalion.  "It all happened pretty quickly after that."

The Marines relied on their M-16s instead of the M-60 sniper rifles for the close-quarters combat.  The explosions began with a grenade and rifle fire followed as they swept into the insurgents' position.

"We fired a few grenades at them and the vehicle they were prepping.  Then we set up a cordon so we could catch any stragglers," Pursley said.  "We found one guy hiding in the bushes next to the scene.  We detained him and brought him back to the base for questioning."

No bodies were found around the site, although the remains of a bloody firefight were still present when the fire stopped.

"We know we got hits out there, though," said Clark, of Murphy, N.C.  "They didn't have time to fire back. It was pretty much one-sided."

The battle for the stretch of highway is an ongoing one for the sniper teams and rifle companies here.

"After what happened, they know if they go out there to cause trouble they'll be taking a chance with their lives," Pursley said.

Clark echoed Pursley's statement with one of his own.

"Word will get out about what happened," Clark said.  "We'll be out there again tonight waiting for the next ones to try something like that."

"If (the insurgents) can only remember one thing after what happened, it'll be this: we're always watching," Pursley added.