GHARMAH, Iraq -- They’re fast, lethal and quickly working themselves out of a job.
Marines of D Company, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion are clearing this small town north of Fallujah of insurgents and training Iraqi soldiers to operate independently at the same time. They’re doing it all with their light armored vehicles, an eight-wheeled vehicle they eat in, sleep in and use to maintain security and stability in their area of operations.
The company’s main priority is keeping the roads through the town secure from insurgents and free of improvised explosive devices, according to 2nd Lt. Court Rape, a 23-year-old platoon commander.
“The main route in our AO has a lot of insurgent traffic running to Baghdad and Ramadi, transporting personnel and weapons, because it has fewer checkpoints,” Rape said.
The Marines operate out of LAVs, a vehicle capable of traversing all types of terrain, traveling at more than 70 mph. It’s not just a speed-demon, though. It’s brimming to the teeth with a pair of machine guns and a 25mm cannon. Top that off with infantry scouts in back - it’s linchpin to the company’s success. Locals see a sign of strength and speed, and insurgents see a rolling death threat.
“We can go everywhere a tank can go, but we have enough fuel to drive for a week,” said Lance Cpl. Mark Efimoff, from Woodburn, Ore. “We are fast, mobile, have scouts on the ground and heavy fire power right there. LAVs are a quick, self sustaining force.”
D Company’s platoons leave their home base of Camp Fallujah for several days at a time, roaming their 60-square kilometer area, mainly covered by farmland, but dotted with a few villages.
They never really take a break either. Even when they’re not running down the road, they’re ready to fight, coiled in a 360-degree security perimeter while the Marines take turns sleeping and grabbing a bite to eat, according Efimoff.
In addition to keeping the roads safe, the company – working in direct support of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment – is conducting counterinsurgency operations, finding weapons caches, and working alongside the Iraqi Army.
“The Iraqi soldiers are a great asset,” said Rape, from College Station, Texas. “Instead of our one interpreter, we have about 18 guys who can communicate with the Iraqi people, making their presence known and giving us the heads up on insurgent activities.”
The Iraqi Army is slated to take responsibility for select areas of Iraq starting at the end of this year and recently recruited more than 1,000 men from the Fallujah area. The close work with Iraqis is surprising even the harshest of Marine critics.
“I had my expectations of how they would perform before I saw them, but they came out and impressed us,” said Sgt. Timothy Redleaf, a vehicle commander from Rapid City, S.D. “They are here to make a difference.”
While the operations conducted with the Iraqis have not been on a large scale, they have shown promise in what they can offer.
“Our Marines will fight beside them without reservation in any conflict,” said Capt. H. Ripley Rawlings IV, the company’s commander, from Boulder. Colo. “If all of the Iraqi platoons are like the ones we have operated with, then the IA will be a force worthy of deploying with Marines. When the time is right, they will be ready to take over this province – and that time is approaching quickly.”
After operating in the area for roughly two months, the Marines proved their capabilities as a fighting force. Insurgent attacks in the area are down from just a couple months ago.
Prior to their arrival just weeks ago, the region experienced insurgent attacks every day, including small-arms fire, IEDs, rocket attacks and ambushes. Now, it has ceased, according to Rawlings.
“Our enemy is very focused and determined, but … we have degraded and defeated the enemy to the point where they stopped attacking us,” Rawlins explained. “The last few days have been very quiet.
“We are winning this war and Iraq’s time as a free and sovereign democratic nation is just around the corner,” he added.