CAMP HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Marines of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment are beefing up security in a volatile area near Habbaniyah known as the “Shark’s Fin.”
Marines are setting up a series of observation posts along the main highways to stop improvised explosive device placement and provide a springboard for combat operations.
“As the OPs are getting set up, we’re conducting cordon and knocks in order to disrupt enemy activity in the area, so they’re not gathering up and attacking the OPs,” said Staff Sgt. Kenneth Distelhorst, a platoon sergeant with L Company.
The 27-year-old from Columbus, Ohio said since the company came to the new area of operations they are heavily focused on increasing the security and stability in the region.
“We’ve got the enemy off guard right now because we moved in, like that--,” he snapped his fingers, “throwing them off guard. We’re wrapping up a lot of bad dudes.”
Distelhorst said his platoon nabbed four insurgents the night before, during a raid mission dubbed Operation Tiger Shark.
“We had intel on some guys that were involved in mortaring Habbaniyah,” Distelhorst said. “It was pretty successful. We went out to wrap these guys up and we got four.”
Marines are careful only use the necessary force in capturing and detaining insurgents, wither a low-level attacker or a terrorist cell leader.
“We try to do it as professionally as possible,” said Lance Cpl. Jody Walters, an infantryman with L Company. “We treat them like human beings.”
The 24-year-old from Indianapolis said three platoons were involved in the helicopter-borne raids, which yielded multiple detainees.
“Our squad caught two and 2nd and 3rd Platoons got the rest,” he said. “It feels great with less bad guys on the street.”
The pace is a change from the one at the company’s previous area, said Lance Cpl. Daniel O’Neil, an infantryman.
“The last three weeks have been faster-paced than normal,” said the 22-year-old from Manhattan, Kan. “We’re trying to get stuff done.”
“I’ve lost track of time,” Walters added. “Basically, we were running missions out of the patrol base. We’re going around, trying to get the people on our side and meet-and-greet.”
Combat engineers played a key role in building the observation posts, to which the infantrymen ultimately add the finishing touches.
In the last few days the engineers built one observation post, and in the next four days they will build two others, according to Cpl. Jeffrey Parson, a team leader.
“Mostly, they set up the barriers and build up the house that the grunts can live in, and the grunts provide security for the engineers as they’re building,” added the 25-year-old from Portland, Ore. “Our whole company is pushing ahead and clearing the houses around them to make sure there are no terrorists in the area.”
Marines occasionally inhabit Iraqi houses during missions, taking care not to cause damage to the buildings or property, Distelhorst explained.
“I can speak for my platoon, we do a good turnover,” he said. “We talk things over with the house owner, tell them we’ll stay there a few days and tell them we’ll take good care of the house. We walk through with the owner prior to turning it back over and make sure they’re satisfied.”
He added they also give the owners a card that they can take to Habbaniyah, to get reimbursed for any damages to the house.
Parson said his Marines look at their upcoming missions as humps in the road, milestones they celebrate afterward with cigars.
“The first hump was the helo op, where we looked for terrorist cell leaders out in the Shark’s Fin area,” he said. “The next hump is the six days where we’re building OP’s. Our final hump is manning the OP’s.”
The company lost a Marine to hostile action near Fallujah just prior to moving west to Habbaniyah.
The name of Lance Cpl. Rex Page is written on many helmets, reminding Marines that they fight not only for a larger cause, but for the Marine to their left and right.
“You want to go out and catch the guy that did it,” and make a difference, said Lance Cpl. Mario Mendoza, an infantryman who’d known Page since joining the battalion in October. “You can say, ‘I did it for Page,’ but you can’t go out and destroy everything.”
O’Neil said with such a hefty workload, the Marines have to keep focused on the job at hand.
“We’ve got a mission,” he said. “It’s hard when you’re not getting enough sleep, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
And they won’t think about stopping until the flight back to the States.
“When we’re on the bird, our job’s done,” Distelhorst said. “It’s never over until you’re on the bird.”