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Marines sweep for enemy mortarmen in Kharma

29 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Enemy mortarmen in the rural areas around Fallujah may soon find themselves face-to-face with the business end of a Marine's M-16.

Bristling with rifles and ammunition, and the sun on their backs, Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, has gone on the hunt for enemy mortarmen here recently.

"One of our duties is mortar mitigation," explained Sgt. James Eldridge, 24, and a team leader with the company. "We need to keep them from firing at us, so we're basically just getting out there on foot and searching for enemy positions."

Although anti-coalition forces have learned to keep their distance from the Marines, mortar sweeps also serve as presence patrols, according to Eldridge.

"These type of missions just reminds them that we're here hoping we actually run into them, or at least close enough to kill them," said Eldridge, from Lynn, Mass.

Despite the 'shoot-and-hide' tactics of the enemy mortarmen and the 120-degree temperatures, the Marines are holding up well and are committed to keeping on the enemy's trail, according to one squad leader in the company.

"The terrain can be challenging, but my Marines are doing very well and are eager to get these bad guys - and we will," said Sgt. Fernando Rafael, 26. "I expect us to continue doing more sweeps because of (the operation's) success and effectiveness."

It helps to have some combat veterans too, according to Eldridge.

"We have a strong and salty squad because some of us were here last year," said Eldridge, who's currently serving a second tour in Iraq and will receive a Purple Heart medal for wounds received from enemy action.

One tool that has helped out the Marines of Kilo Company is the minesweeper. The combat engineers have used the gadget to uncover many weapons caches, draining the enemy's combat power.

"I think (the enemy is) just stretched out thin, but it would help to have more minesweepers with us," said Rafael, of Pomona, Calif. "The combat engineers are very effective and we have seized a lot of weapons because of them."