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‘Mountaineer’ prepared for demanding trek

25 Sep 2006 | Pfc. Nathaniel F. Sapp

Marines from the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (2nd LAR) officially began their months-long deployment in western Al Anbar.

A ceremony marked the event as 2nd LAR assumed responsibility for providing security and training Iraqi Security Forces, from the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (3rd LAR) Sept. 21.

3rd LAR will soon return home after wrapping up their seven-month deployment in support of the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Regimental Combat Team 7 (RCT-7).

RCT-7 is the coalition forces unit responsible for providing security and developing Iraqi Security Forces in western Al Anbar — an area of more than 30,000 square miles, which spans from the Syrian/Jordanian borders hundreds of miles east to the Euphrates River.

When 3rd LAR arrived in March, the battalion, also known as “Wolfpack,” trained Iraqi Security Forces while providing security from the Syrian and Jordanian  borders and east through hundreds of miles of parched desert landscape.

Within this large span of territory sits Ar Rutbah — a city of about 30,000 located about 100 miles east of the Jordanian/Iraqi border. 

Throughout their deployment, 3rd LAR played a crucial role in fighting the insurgency by restricting access into the city from terrorists and foreign fighters who made their way across the Jordanian/Syrian borders.

While 3rd LAR boasted one of the largest areas of operation in western Al Anbar — it got larger. 

On July 29, Iraq’s top coalition forces command, Multi-National Forces-Iraq, announced the relocation of coalition units to Baghdad from other areas in the country to quell the sectarian violence plaguing the capital city. 

One of those “other areas” was the Euphrates River-city of Rawah — a city of about 20,000 located 150 miles northeast of Ar Rutbah.

Wolfpack filled the gap in Rawah to continue training Iraqi Security Forces and providing security where the previous coalition unit left off, prior to making its way to Baghdad.

Starting today, 2nd LAR, also known as “Mountaineer,” intends to capitalize on the successes of their West Coast counterparts, according to Marines here.

“In order for us to do our job effectively, we’re going to need to build on the successes of 3rd LAR,” said Lt. Col. Austin E. Renforth, battalion commander for 2nd LAR. “In the short time that they’ve (3rd LAR) been here, they did a great job of setting us up to take it to the next level.”

That “next level” is one critical to the overall mission that coalition forces face in Iraq. Ultimately, it will allow the areas of Iraq that coalition forces operate in to confidently turn over safe locations to Iraqi Security Forces.

For 2nd LAR, it means putting more of the battalion’s Marines into cities like Rawah and Anah — a small town about 10 miles south of Rawah — to work with the Iraqi Security Forces and their people.

“Coming together with the Iraqi Security Forces is our number one priority.  We need to be training and working side by side with them in order for our objective to be reached,” said Renforth.

"Ultimately, we want to make sure the Iraqi forces have the knowledge, and the ability, to confidently police their own," added Cpl. Joshua Young, a 20-year-old from Howell, Mich.

Through extensive training both in the field and in the classroom, the Marines of 2nd LAR have been given the tools and information needed to complete their mission, while maintaining the high standards set for them.

"Our command did a great job of preparing the whole training package," said Cpl. Steven Oakes, a 22-year-old light armored vehicle gunner for the battalion’s Company A and Longview, Wash., native. "They wanted to make sure that everyone was proficiently cross-trained to handle any situation."

Although this deployment is not the first for many in the battalion, the Marines of 2nd LAR are aware of the ever-changing environment in Iraq where the “seen it once, seen it all” attitude does not apply, and all they can expect is the unexpected.

"We have to be prepared for this to be different than last time," said Cpl. Chris McGathy, a 22-year-old vehicle commander with CO. A. "We’re in different areas with different types of people, people who constantly have to deal with upheaval in their lives."

While the reaction of the Iraqi people is uncertain, the battalion has an extensive amount of tools at its disposal in order to maximize their effectiveness in the region.

An LAR unit employs light armored vehicles along with infantrymen, increasing the range of their abilities and allowing them to self-sustain easier than other infantry units might be able to, said Renforth. The Marines can also work separate from the vehicles, making them able to conduct dismounted patrols and thorough sweeps of an area.

"We have more maneuverability and speed, more firepower available, and more overall versatility," said Oakes. "We pretty much have the whole package."

"There's a lot of confidence of our abilities within the battalion," added McGathy, a Cedarville, Kan., native. "We're definitely ready, and going to hit the ground running."