ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- Marines expanded their area of operations to assist U.S. Army forces recently.
Marines from C Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment working with Regimental Combat Team 5, conducted patrols in the area surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison. The area was until recently, part of an Army division’s area of operations. Their forces were realigned to boost security in Baghdad and Marines backfilled the region.
Abu Ghraib is located 20 miles west of Baghdad in the Al Anbar Province.
“Our Marines are performing a large variety of functions in the area,” said Capt. Brian S. Middleton, the 30-year-old company commander from DeSoto, Texas. “They are conducting near constant security patrols and maintaining hard bases in the area.”
C Company and two Mobile Assault Platoons from Weapons Company are based on and around the prison providing security in the surrounding communities.
They are uncovering improvised explosive devices and buried weapons and reaching out to the Iraqis in their new area. For the most part, the Marines have been busy learning their new surroundings.
“The Marines conduct mounted and dismounted patrols, IED patrols, cache sweeps, cordon-and-knocks and raids,” Middleton said.
Marines from C Company conduct several types of patrols routinely throughout the area. On a typical morning, one platoon conducted security patrols around a power plant, near the prison. They worked on stopping, listening, looking and smelling, a jingle the Marines refer to when they’re learning their surroundings.
“We conducted your standard security patrol in the area,” said Sgt. Jesse B. Auten, a 23-year-old squad leader from Lowry City, Mo. “The Marines performed SLLS and kept eyes on the area.”
The Marines took periodic stops and sat listing to their surroundings for suspicious activity. It’s a job of patience and keen observation. It’s also a role they know reassures the local citizens and reminds insurgents in the area that there is no safe haven.
“We stop and just provide a presence for the community to see and for the insurgents to see too,” Auten said. “We let them all know we are here.”
Afternoon missions called for another platoon to conduct security patrols, but also performed a survey for the local residents. The Marines handed out sheets of paper with questions written in Arabic for the local community.
“The sheets we passed out were questioning the Iraqi people on our activities in the area,” said Sgt. Jose L. Alicea, a 25-year-old squad leader from Bronx, N.Y. “We basically were asking them how we’re doing and to see if there is anything they need.”
The change of scenery didn’t call for Marines to completely revamp their tactics, though. They knew that the same traditional roles would be needed, but in a denser environment than the rural areas they had been working in north of Fallujah.
The Marines welcomed the opportunity to move to an area that is more dynamic. So far, their constant presence in the communities is paying off. Insurgent activity is less than what many expected.
“I knew coming into this area that we weren’t going to be performing any real offensive work,” Alicea said. “But not seeing a lot of insurgent activity isn’t a bad thing.”
The Marines are constantly moving out, making the area safer for the people of Iraq. Running constant foot patrols is what it takes to keep the insurgents at bay.
“The Marines patrol anywhere from 50 to 60 miles a week on foot,” Middleton explained. “They go out, conduct operations then return for a rest and then do it all over again.”
It’s exhausting work. Marines perform the mission wearing their combat load of body armor and push throughout the rising temperatures. It takes a toll, but is part of the every-day routine for the infantrymen.
“We are all just here doing our job,” Alicea added. “Changing up the AO just moved us around. We are still doing the same mission.”
Keeping the insurgents from attacking the prison is high on the agenda for the Marines of the battalion, said Middleton.
“When the insurgents successfully attack the prison it’s a morale victory for them,” Middleton said. “We’re here to stop those attacks from happening.”
1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment will maintain their expanded area of operations for the foreseeable future.