CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The battalion known as the Thundering Third came down hard on enemy safehavens around Fallujah in their to-date largest operation alongside Iraqi forces recently.
3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, alongside Iraqi Specialized Special Forces, conducted Operation Clean Sweep Aug. 23-24 in areas east of Fallujah.
The operation was designed to hinder enemy movement to and from the city and eliminate any possible safe havens in the vicinity.
"We're basically sweeping rural open areas because we're suspecting terrorists are transporting and selling weapons, shooting mortars and attacking our firm bases," explained Sgt. Edgar O. Payan, a platoon guide with Company K.
"Terrorists are moving through areas like crop fields as they come and go out of Fallujah, so we're hoping we nab some suspects and find their weapons," added Payan, a 25-year-old from Pomona, Calif.
The 48-hour operation kicked off in the early hours of Aug. 23. By the end of the first day, Marines had arrested two suspects for stowing munitions in their homes.
Clean Sweep not only called for Marines to search homes for weapons, but to walk the land around the target areas, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The Marines were especially on the lookout for materials used to create improvised explosive devices.
"We found five caches of significance, which contained IED making materials, propaganda material, many types of small arms, and even several sets of SCUBA gear buried in the ground," said Lt. Col. Willard A. Buhl, the battalion's commanding officer. "We also detained a number of suspected terrorists."
Payan gives much credit for the battalion's success to the younger Marines, who have proved effective and eager.
"I'm glad we're doing this mission because I want to get these bastards," said Lance Cpl. Ryan M. Voeller, a 20-year-old rifleman with Company K.
"We've been doing really good because so far we've found a bunch of weapons the enemy can't use anymore," added Voeller, from Sinclair, Minn.
Buhl noted the teamwork between his troops and the Iraqi forces conducting Operation Clean Sweep.
"Our Iraqi partners were up front developing the tactical situation for their Marine counterparts," explained Buhl. "Their ability to gain intelligence on suspected enemy caches was invaluable and continued to build trust between our two fighting organizations - I expect our capabilities to increase commensurately," Buhl added.
Buhl, along with Sgt. Maj. Edward T. Sax, battalion sergeant major, took time after the operation to praise the Marines for a job well done.
"Our Marines and Sailors performed at the 'Three-One Standard,' accomplishing the mission above expectations," said Buhl, 41, of Los Gratos, Calif.
"Sergeant Major Sax and I couldn't be more proud of them, as should our families and friends back home - we're doing great things for our nation, the Marine Corps and the Iraqi people," said Buhl.