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Darkhorse Marines repel attack, maintain vigilance

27 May 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Insurgents are finding out Marines are a “Force In Readiness,” whether the insurgents are adequately prepared or not.

Darkhorse Marines of 2nd Platoon, L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment battled insurgents in a 20-minute firefight at their patrol post in the town of Halabisah, May 24.

The first sign of the attack came only moments before the first round was fired.

“Our guys on post saw a couple of the stores across the street shut down and a couple of cars dropped people off,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Wood, a grenadier. “That’s when the shooting started.”

The attack began with a rocket-propelled grenade to the second floor balcony of the Marine outpost.  Every Marine in the house was alert and participating in the fight within moments of the first blast.

“I was awakened by an RPG round exploding and small-arms fire,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Michon, a rifleman. The 19-year-old from Houston said he ran upstairs for his first firefight dressed in PT shorts, shower sandals and his body armor.  It was there he noticed the insurgents were shooting from all directions.

“You could see we were being sprayed from every side,” he said.  “We returned fire as best we could.”

No Marines were injured in the attack.  Two squads immediately searched the area and found no sign of the gunmen.

“The Marines reacted exactly like they were supposed to,” said Sgt. Luis Macias, a squad leader. “No hesitation whatsoever.”

The platoon set up their patrol base in a house on the edge of L Company’s area of operation a few days prior to the attack. The company covers a geographically larger area of operation than any other company in the battalion. 

“Since our battalion’s been stretched out, our company has seen a lot of everything,” said Macias, 28, from Oceanside, Calif.  “Any type of fire – you name it, we’ve seen it.  But after our performance last night, I don’t see it happening again any time soon.” 

The next day, the Marines halted a convoy to talk to a local family filling a wheelbarrow with rocks along a train track to improve a nearby well. 

“We wanted to make sure they understood what the Marines think when they see shovels alongside the road,” said Capt. William Allen, the company’s commanding officer.

“We let them know whenever they see Marines to stop what they’re doing, greet them and notify them what’s going on,” Allen said.  “It not only protects the locals, but the Marines too.” 

Fighting terrorism takes more than brute force. The Marines here also reach out to the local citizens to better know their situation and needs.

“Our main mission here is to gain the confidence of the populace,” Macias said.  “It’s hard, because you’ve got these guys who terrorize these people and convince them that if they help us, something bad is going to happen to them.  We tell them if there are any problems, to call us.”  

The company commander then met with the local head sheik at his home later that evening.  A sheik in Iraq has influence similar to a governor in the United States, he explained, which makes him a valuable ally in the War on Terror.

“He’s been very helpful in taking care of the Iraqis here, working with the schools and improving the roads and boosting the economy, improving the water supply,” said Allen, a 35-year-old from Woodstock, Va. “As the locals continue to stand up on their own, it helps to deter the insurgency in the area.”

They discussed one another’s concerns over tea and coffee in hopes of finding ways to prevent further attacks and raise the quality of life in the town.  

“It’s always a great honor for me to meet with him,” Allen said.  “Just to be able to sit down, listen to some of his stories and learn about him and his tribe is humbling.”

The Marines noticed a sign of success during the ride back to Firm Base Black. Dozens of Iraqis had gathered near a historically dangerous part of a stretch of highway – called Main Supply Route Boston – for a game of soccer.

“That was a great indicator tonight that the locals felt safe enough to come out and have a large gathering on a historically dangerous part of Boston to be able to play soccer,” Allen said.  “It’s a great celebration not just for us, but for the locals.”

Allen had words of praise for his Marines’ performance over the last four months.

“We’ve certainly met a lot of the challenges of covering such a large area,” he said.  “It’s frustrating for them out there, but they rise above the heat and the elusiveness of the insurgency.  Whether it’s a foot patrol, mobile patrol, or helicopter-borne operation, day to day, they continue to amaze me.”