Syrian Border, Iraq -- For the past six months, Marines with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion have come to know a featureless expanse of desert as home.
Here between the countries of Syria and Iraq, these Marines have been keeping a watchful eye out for smugglers and any other possible threats to security.
"We've been patrolling, getting the Iraqi Police to start doing their job, finding weapons caches and smugglers," said Pfc. Daniel F. Stark, a light armored vehicle mechanic with the battalion.
Stopping the smugglers is one of the main reasons that the Marines are out patrolling along Syria, according to the 21-year-old of Webbeville, Mich.
Without any established border crossings into Iraq, smugglers traffic sheep, cigarettes, and other black market items into Iraq.
"One time when stopping a group of smugglers coming into the country, they had to corral hundreds of sheep with their LAV's," said Stark.
Smugglers and anti-coalition fighters are not the only concern that these Marines face.
"It seems mundane stopping sheep from entering the country," said Lance Cpl. Neal Walker, a rifleman with combat replacement company, "granted we aren't getting ambushed in cities, but we are still getting hit by (improvised explosive devices) and mines."
IED's and mines are a part of life out on the border for these Marines.
Neal, 21, of Orlando, Fla. said that they will discover an IED or mine at least every other day, sometimes the hard way.
"We were once escorting a higher-up, showing him the border forts out here, and the patrols, and we had five mine strikes," said Neal. "And another time, we had nine mine strikes in nine days."
Although some might not see these patrols as glamorous as sweeping terrorists from populated cities, Neal gives himself the credit that he feels he deserves.
"With all of the media focusing on Ramadi and Fallujah, there is a strong importance in what we are doing out here," he said. "These smugglers are hurting (Iraq's) economy."
With the end of their tour in Iraq coming to a close, some of the Marines feel that the memories of this mission will remain with them.
"It's been a lot of fun," said Stark, "We've run over mines and IED's, and it's a lot of work. But now I have to figure out how to spend my money when I go home in October."
"All around, it was an experience in itself," said Walker. "I spent the last three and a half years in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and now I've been to Iraq. I feel like my experience with the Marine Corps is complete. Now I've got some stories to share when I go (home)."