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Darkhorse Marines meet locals, counter insurgency

3 May 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Marines with the Darkhorse battalion are using one of the most effective combat measures in Iraq.  They’re easing off their trigger fingers.

It’s a slight shift in attitude.  No guns blazing, more knocking and asking questions and Marines from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment are using the tactic with great success.

Marines of Mobile Assault Platoon, Weapons Company, recently stepped up patrols and cache sweeps near Fallujah to counter an increase in improvised explosive device activity in the area.

“Over the past 96 hours we’ve had a dramatic impact,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brett Turek, MAP platoon commander.  He said the number of IEDs planted in the area dropped sharply since the operation began.

The unit uses a cordon-and-knock method to fight the insurgency in the neighborhood, going house-to-house and talking to the locals.

“Right now we’re basically meeting and greeting the people and checking their houses to see if there’s anything suspicious in there,” said Pfc. Javier Villarreal, a 21-year-old infantryman from El Paso, Texas assigned to MAP.  “Hopefully they’ll give us information.”

The friendly approach to searching is a result of the changing mission in Iraq, according to Staff Sgt. Jesse Thompson, section leader for MAP.

“We’re not here to do what we were doing last year,” he said.  “We want them to understand we’re here to help them, not hurt.” 

The Marines passed out flyers to inform the public how insurgents put them in danger, with phone numbers they can call for help.

Turek noticed a shift in the neighborhood’s attitude when insurgents placed an IED on the road in front of the local elementary school. 

“If you target us, that’s one thing.  But when you start targeting kids, we’ll get that word out to the populace,” said the 38-year-old from Hinsdale, Ill.  “There is something unique about insurgents targeting kids that everybody can agree is wrong.” 

It’s a part of the War on Terror that strikes a personal chord with all Marines.  The Marines have soft spot for the children, often caught in the middle.

“What really gets under my skin is, we find an IED one day and the next day we’ll see kids in the same place,” Thompson said.  “I’ve got four kids of my own.  I can’t understand why anybody would put kids in danger like that.” 

“These people around here are what we call fence-sitters, so we try a more tactful approach,” said Lance Cpl. Joshua Robinson, an infantryman from Herrin, Ill. assigned to MAP.  “We greet them instead of just kicking the door in.  It’s more of a soft approach to try and win the hearts and minds.” 

They meet new faces while going door-to-door, while dispelling myths about Americans along the way, Thompson said. “One woman we talked to yesterday had never spoken to a Marine before.  Once we went in and talked to her, she said we weren’t anything like she thought.” 

“They were nervous at first, but I think we made a definite relationship,” Turek added. “Hopefully that will pay off for us in the future.”

The stepped-up cache sweeps are bringing results as well, as Marines from 1st Combat Engineer Battalion’s, B Company who scan the area for buried ordnance caches.  There they find everything from AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades to IED-making materials and mortars.

“We’ve been going pretty strong for the past week and a half,” said Lance Cpl. Jason Bright, a combat engineer attached to Weapons Company.  “A couple days ago we found a pretty good size one, with a lot of AK’s, RPGs and explosives.” 

The 20-year-old from San Angelo, Texas, carried a full combat load in addition to his metal detector searching for enemy munitions.  He said finding buried weapons are all the motivation he needs to keep going.

“It’s always good to find something, because it makes you feel like its worthwhile having to hump this stuff around all day,” Bright said.

Although most of the people they meet cooperate, Thompson said the Marines are ready for anything. 

“As soft as it may look, in the snap of a finger you can go from soft to extremely hard,” explained the 31-year-old from Orlando, Fla.  “That’s why we have counter-measures set in place.”

He credited the progress in the area to the men on the ground. 

“If this mission is going to be a success, it’s because of those Marines out there every day,” he said.  “These are the best guys I’ve ever worked with in my life.”