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Marines combine skills to fight in city

30 May 2006 | Cpl. Brian Reimers

Rooting out insurgents in the rural farmlands west of Fallujah is quite a different task than the same thing in the densely packed city streets.  It’s a change of pace two companies worth of Marines are learning in beefed up operations here.

Marines from A Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, worked side by side with B Company to fight the insurgency in Fallujah.  They left behind the palm groves and farmlands of their usual operating area and headed into the heart of Fallujah.

“It was overall a huge scenery change for us,” said Navy Seaman Cameron R. Cleveland, one of A Company’s hospital corpsmen. “We went from jumping over irrigation canals and walking through heavy vegetation to the crowded city.”

A Company is currently operating outside the city, while B Company is operating in Fallujah’s back alleys.  They are using each others’ tactics and learning the areas to stop the insurgents from getting an upper hand in the populated area.

“We did a security patrol, which consisted of checking out anything suspicious in the area,” said Sgt. Brendan W. Hamm, a platoon sergeant with B Company. “I took some of the Marines from Alpha Company throughout our area of operation to get them used to the type of missions that we run here.”

The Marines loaded several humvees and made their way into the center of the city. Within minutes of arriving at their assigned area, they spotted a vehicle commonly used by insurgents parked in an alley way with three military-aged males inside.

Hamm said it’s the type of scenario Marines here encounter all the time.

“We would be patrolling the city and see a vehicle that looked suspicious,” Hamm said, from Schenectady, N.Y. “With security posted, we get out of our humvees and make it a point to check them out.”

Searching the suspicious vehicle for weapons and any possible ties to insurgent activity isn’t the only thing they are doing though.  They also try to gain a pulse of the needs of the local citizens during routine stops.

“We ask them general question to see if they act irregular and might be helping out the bad guys, but we also like to ask if they are running a business or what they do in the city,” the 26-year-old Hamm said. “It is important to see if we can help them out in any way.  It is the least we can do after stopping them and searching them.”

For some Marines, moving from the open stretches of farmlands to the urban patchwork of concrete buildings was challenging.

“There are definitely a lot more people and the streets are just much more crowded,” said 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Adam A. Briggs, an A Company Marine while searching vehicles. “With all of that you need to be a lot more aware of your surroundings at any given time.”

There’s an added sense of alertness that comes with working in such tight areas like Fallujah.

“Up north, you can see where possible enemy contact will come from,” explained Cleveland, 19, of Battleground, Wash. “In Fallujah though, you poke your head around a corner and there are a lot of places to be engaged from which makes it a lot more dangerous.”

After hours of patrolling the streets, the mounted patrol rounded a corner before heading back to their firm base to find another group of Iraqi males acting out of sorts.

Immediately, the combination of Marines dismounted and searched the vehicle, turning up an identification that did not belong to anyone riding in the car.

“The I.D. didn’t belong to anyone on scene,” Hamm said. “You never know … it could of fallen out of someone’s pocket and they picked it up to give it back, or they could have used it to try and get an insurgent into the city. That is why we stop to question them.”

The men were questioned and then released, but Marines held on to the identification badge.  They would later check it with records at their headquarters.

Not all tense moments came from searches.  A sandstorm hit the convoy of vehicles without warning. Turret gunners were forced to change out their eye protection for a set of ballistic goggles and take some sort of refuge behind their mounted machine guns.

With a little discomfort and frustration, the dusted vehicles pulled back into the forward operating base.  Sweaty, tired and dirty, the day’s mission was a success.

“The Bravo Company guys gave us some great guidance of what to look for in the city,” said Briggs said, from Newport, Pa. “It worked very well and it is great to be able to combine our forces and experiences to make things run smoothly and in the end fight the same mission.”