CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- A stretch of highway once called “IED Alley” might be changing its name to “Darkhorse Drive.”
The Darkhorse Marines of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, are making steps to secure the highway connecting Fallujah and Ramadi by building several new observation posts along Main Supply Route Michigan.
“It’s to keep the major lines of communications open, prevent (improvised explosive devices) from getting in place, so as units transit back and forth it’s safer,” said Staff Sgt. William W. Heidelberger, a platoon sergeant for K Company.
To accomplish their mission the Darkhorse Marines are living in houses which have no electricity or running water, but these tough living conditions are nothing new for Marines in the infantry company.
“We do what we have to do to survive,” said Cpl. Matthew Brines, a motor transport operator attached to I Company. “There’s no amenities like at the forward operating bases, but we have what we need – a place to sleep, food, water and relative security.”
Heidelberger, a 33-year-old from Marvell, Ark., said he’s already noticed an improvement in the situation along the highway during the short time since his platoon began patrolling from their observation post, dubbed OP Falcons.
“So far we’ve only been here for a day, but we’ve managed to disrupt enemy activities … by maintaining constant surveillance and constant watch,” Heidelberger said. “As they try to do things, we can interdict them and disrupt and destroy enemy activities.”
The new positions along the highway enable the Marines to keep eyes on the road for anything out of place.
“There are signs we look for, a lot of obvious things that tell us if there’s going to be an attack,” said Cpl. James Walters, 21, from Houston.
A common method used by insurgents to attack Marines is planting roadside bombs along the highway. Seven have been found within a thousand-meter stretch of road, according to Sgt. Joseph Zolnai, a squad leader for I Company.
The 22-year-old from Holt, Mich., said the insurgency is more organized in their new area of operations.
“We deal with coordinated attacks a lot more now,” he added.
The change of operational tempo is welcome to many Marines in the company, who waited for a good fight since the battalion arrived in Iraq in January.
“We’ve seen more action as a company here in our first four or five days then we did in five months in Amiriyah,” said Cpl. Matthew J. Thienes, a team leader with I Company. “This place is the hub ... a way different pace and whole different ballgame.”
The 22-year-old from Lake Elmo, Minn., doesn’t mind the extra work, either.
“It’s fine,” he said. “We’re doing our job.”
Brines, a 22-year-old from White Lake, Mich., spent five months at Camp Smitty driving trucks to re-supply forward operating bases and drove for patrols. He got his first taste of enemy contact soon after the battalion shifted forces west.
“The other day, two IEDs detonated near my truck within 100 meters of each other,” he said. “It’s not natural to have bullets shot at you, but after being a Marine for three and a half years, it’s kind of exciting. It feels like we’re actually doing something.”
In the end, the Marines hope by making allies and helping the local populace, they wiill bring a sense of peace and stability to the area.
“That’s always an ongoing process,” Heidelberger said. “We’re just now getting here and getting our feet wet, so as it develops a little more we’ll see what we can do.”