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9/11 more than just a day of remembrance for Marine 'Tankers' in Iraq

11 Sep 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

It’s a mission his Marines have made many times during six months in Iraq, but for 1st Lt. Anthony Bariletti, today’s resupply convoy to a nearby U.S. military outpost is a little special.

After all, it’s Sept. 11.

Five years ago today, the 26-year-old Bariletti, a native New Yorker, watched on television as terrorists crashed two passenger airliners into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. A native of Queens, he was in college when the “Towers” fell, and just months away from beginning service in the Marine Corps.

“I had a late class that day, and I was getting ready,” said Bariletti, who had already completed basic training to become a Marine officer when “9-11” occurred. “My mother called and told me to turn on the T.V. I couldn’t believe it.”

Like many Americans, Bariletti watched what he thought seemed like a scene from a movie – two commercial airliners exploding as they crashed into the World Trade Center’s towers, the towers’ eventual fall, and the grim aftermath that followed.

“Is it a little personal for me? Yeah, it is,” said Bariletti. “But even more personal – I’ve lost four (Men) out here.”

The four Marines Bariletti referred to were all killed in action while serving in Iraq – a former roommate, a best friend, and two subordinate Marines, one who was killed in April near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Today, Bariletti is the executive officer for the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Company C, 1st Tank Battalion. He and the rest of the company’s Marines have spent six months in Iraq supporting the 5,000-plus U.S. and Iraqi troops spread throughout the country’s western Al Anbar province.

Company C is currently attached to Regimental Combat Team 7, the U.S. military unit responsible for providing security and mentoring Iraqi Security Forces in western Anbar – an area more than 30,000-square miles in size, or about the size of South Carolina, according to Marine officials here.

Equipped with 68-ton M1A1 Main Battle Tanks, the company’s tank crews provide security and protection to the Marine infantrymen who spearhead counterinsurgency operations and mentor Iraqi Security Forces in this region, quite arguably Iraq’s most dangerous province.

Huddled around a table inside a wooden shack on this sprawling U.S. airbase, a dozen or so Company C Marines listen to Bariletti brief today’s mission – the delivery of vital supplies, such as food, water and fuel, via convoy to a nearby U.S. military post.

After 20 minutes of talk on security procedures, how to react to enemy attacks, communication frequencies, and other essentials, Bariletti reminds the Marines that despite the significance of the day’s date, it’s the same as any other mission for them to complete.

“It’s September 11, but does that mean anything? No,” said Bariletti to his Marines.

“It’s not the (expletive) Tet offensive out there, but watch out,” said Bariletti reminding his Marines to maintain awareness on the road as they do for every mission no matter what the date may be.

The Marines have a saying in Iraq – “Complacency Kills.” Awareness, and following procedures, is perhaps the greatest counter to the threat of improvised explosive devices – roadside bombs used by insurgents to target U.S. and Iraqi forces, and often credited as the number one killer of Coalition Forces troops in Al Anbar Province.

“These guys (insurgents) aren’t stupid,” added Capt. Jarred R. Duff, Company C’s commanding officer, during the brief. “They know if they attack you from the front, they’re going to die.”

Instead, insurgents plant IEDs, never having to face off with Company C’s Marines – or their heavily-armed tanks.

After checking straps on trucks, securing machine guns and ammunition to their vehicles, the Marines hit the road. During the trip, Iraqi children wave at the passing American trucks.

Minus clouds of dust kicked up by the Marines’ tanks, nothing significant seems to happen during the Marines’ convoy. They arrive at the U.S. military outpost without a hitch.

Still, they leave nothing to chance.

“As long as we all stay vigilant out here, no one will get hurt,” said Cpl. Andrew T. McDaniel, a 21-year-old from Golden, Colo. McDaniel is a Marine motor transportation operator – a truck driver.

On today’s convoy, he’s driving a seven-ton truck carrying boxes of fruit, sodas, and sports drinks. On Sept. 11, 2001, McDaniel says he was in high school – “a junior or a senior,” he recalls while driving his truck, keeping his eyes on the road, and occasionally looking at the sides of the road.

“I wish we’d get some today,” said McDaniel. “Get some” is Marine speak for coming into contact with the enemy – getting into a gunfight. “I think it’d mean a lot to everyone if we could get some today.”

The insurgents apparently had other plans. No one jumped in front of the Marines’ trucks or tanks wielding a machine gun or rife. Then again, none of the Marines expect them too.

Still, they’re prepared either way, says McDaniel – “It’s kinda like, you gotta see them before they see you,” he said.

But once the convoy arrives to the U.S. military outpost, McDaniel and the rest of the Company C Marines on the convoy focus on off-loading the truckloads’ of food, water, fuel and other supplies which provide the bulk of logistical support for U.S. forces operating there.

A few hours later, the Marines are covered in dirt and their camouflage uniforms are soaked with sweat from offloading hundreds of boxes.

In the past six months, they’ve delivered “about a million pounds” of supplies to the outpost, said Bariletti. Company C has delivered nearly everything which makes up the outpost, from the barriers which form the post’s perimeter, to even the large barbecue grill inside the compound.

Despite the road’s dangers, Company C delivers the goods, according to Bariletti, no matter what the mission calls for – delivering supplies to an outpost, using tanks to provide security to Marine infantrymen, or recovering broken-down U.S. military vehicles.

“If the call comes in, ‘Boom!’ the Marines have to have their gear on and they’re out the door,” said Bariletti.

After another brief, the Marines, who have finished offloading the supplies, mount up in their trucks and tanks and head out for the return trip to Al Asad.

During the drive, McDaniel admits he can’t believe Company C has been in Iraq for six months already. He says he tries not to let the thought of any possible dangers on the road bog down his mind.

Married less than a year, McDaniel admits he’s going to reenlist in the Marine Corps, even though there’s a good chance he’ll return to Iraq again.

“Shoot, I’d come back again, as long as it’s not during football season,” he jokes, driving his now dirt-covered seven-ton truck back to Al Asad with the rest of Company C’s convoy. “It’s tough on my marriage, but I’ve got a lot of pride serving out here.”

While Americans back in the U.S. hold memorial services and reflect on the events of five years ago, Marines like McDaniel are driving trucks, patrolling Iraqi cities, training Iraqi soldiers and police – helping a nation stand on its own two feet.

But before they can go home to friends and family back in the States, the Marines of Company Co still have missions to complete, a war to fight. Sept. 11 is a special day for these Marines, but not just because of the events of five years ago. It’s another day scratched off their calendars, another “mission complete” with no one injured – a day closer to going home.

“I try not to think about it too much,” said McDaniel. “We’ll be alright, though, if we can get through this month.”

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: goodwinjm@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.