FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Recon Marines stepped out onto the streets of Fallujah with the keys to the city – bolt cutters and sledge hammers.
Marines from B Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion cut hundreds of locks, searched hundreds of stores and cleared dozens of buildings in their sector of Fallujah during Operation Matador, Sept. 13. Recon Marines, Iraqi Army soldiers, Iraqi Police and Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, partnered for the operation, cordoning off the Andaloos district of Fallujah to disrupt insurgent activity.
All forces are serving under the command of Regimental Combat Team 5.
“We had to have broken more than 200 locks easy,” said Sgt. Jason Salvog, a 27-year-old Crystal, Minn. “Some of the doors we got through had five locks on them. We dulled our bolt cutters.”
Recon Marines walked onto Fallujah’s streets while Iraqi Police, backed by Marines in tanks and amphibious assault vehicles, cordoned the surrounding streets. They crept along the roads, slipping inside the first building they planned to clear.
The two and three-story buildings loomed over the Marines, hundreds of rooms to clear. Gated and shuttered storefronts lined the roads. The normally bustling business area of the Andaloos district was quiet. Only the sounds of Marines’ boots on the pavement broke the morning air.
That was until they got to work with the sledge hammers.
“Working in an urban environment is really different than some of the other things we do,” said Cpl. Lynn Westover Jr., a 25-year-old from Pinehurst, N.C. “There are so many places people could be. They live there. They know every room. It’s like going to your own hometown where you grew up. You just know all the areas.”
Marines fanned out throughout the buildings, rifles pointing in all directions. Along the storefronts, others got to work. They pounded locks and cut through steel with bolt cutters to gain access inside. Everything needed to be searched and Recon Marines wouldn’t be stopped.
“The toughest part of this operation was the amount of breeches themselves,” said Sgt. Chris Zimmerman, a 28-year-old from Austin, Texas. “Every door had locks and it just takes time to get those opened.”
At one point, an Iraqi policeman approached Marines as they were breaking locks and spoke for a few minutes. He walked back out to his post on the cordon, toting his AK-47 assault rifle. It was a moment that embodied the combined-forces approach to the operation.
Reconnaissance Marines have worked with Iraqi Army and Police before, in areas including Ameriyah, Ferris, Zaidon and Habbaniyah. They’ve watched the growing Iraqi Security Forces gain strength and skill to the point where they work right alongside Marines.
“The toughest part is the language barriers,” Salvog said. “We also have to keep in mind that they’re not Marines. They’re working at a different standard.”
Salvog explained Iraqi police and soldiers don’t have the in-depth training Reconnaissance Marine endure and don’t have the same tools at their disposal. Still, the Iraqi’s stood the line on the cordon allowing Marines to work unhindered in their sector. Police vehicles rolled through the streets, lights flashing on their patrol cars.
The operation lasted several hours. Marines consolidated their position with nothing significant to report for insurgent activity. They sent a clear message to the citizens and insurgents alike. There wasn’t anywhere in city Marines wouldn’t go to ensure insurgents don’t have a safe haven.
“The only clear area is the one you’re looking at,” Westover explained. “Once you leave it for a second, it will change.”