FALLUJAH, Iraq --
FALLUJAH, Iraq – Blinding lights pierce through the darkness on a long and winding stretch of pitch black road, exposing otherwise unseen rusted metal objects and abandoned cars.
Behind these bright lights are a group of Marines, part of a route clearance team with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 1, who are tasked with locating ordnance on and near roads traveled by Iraqi citizens and Coalition forces.
The Marines, with Company C, conducted an all-night street-sweeping operation July 23, in the city of Karma, Iraq. In past years, the city and its surrounding area has been a hotbed for insurgent activity, and many of the roads were heavily laden with improvised explosive devices.
Now, the unit is finding very few of the deadly devices and sighs of relief resonate among the Marines.
“The threat of IEDs has gone down so much since I last deployed to Iraq; it used to be a pretty regular thing to get hit,” said Sgt. Jacob W. Verschage, a 24-year-old vehicle commander from Piffard, N.Y. “We go out each night and sweep different areas, but are not turning up very much at all anymore.”
More than a year ago, units deployed to the Anbar Province were finding one or more IEDs every night. Now because of improved security throughout the region, 2nd CEB has uncovered only four in the past four months.
“I would characterize the enemy in our area as being neutralized. We still see occasional (al-Qaeda in Iraq) violence in the area, and we're very watchful to ensure we don't allow a resurgence of AQI activity,” said Col. Lewis A. Craparotta, commanding officer, Regimental Combat Team 1, in an April 21, Department of Defense news briefing. “Most people believe that AQI has fled al-Anbar, at least for the time being, and it's our responsibility to make sure that they can't reestablish themselves back in our area.”
Although security in the region has improved, the combat engineers are still performing their duties with the aid of state-of-the-art equipment.
Engineers use Towing Mine Detection vehicles known as “Huskies,” to scan the area for explosives. They also employ mine resistant ambush protected vehicles called “Buffalos.”
The Buffalo is equipped with a mechanical arm that extends beyond the front of the vehicle allowing the Marines to examine and move potentially dangerous objects from a safe distance while conducting their searches.
“We look for any suspicious looking items,” said Cpl. Junior Marcelin, 21, a wrecker assistant from Indiantown, Fla.
Although the number of IEDs finds has dropped to a record low, the threat remains; keeping the engineers on the road to ensure safe passage for Coalition forces and Iraqi citizens.
“Some units fight in hand-to-hand combat, we clear routes on the road to make them safer for everyone.” said Lance Cpl. Jeremy D. Mitz, a 26-year-old buffalo operator from McMurray, Pa.
“If other units can travel safely down the road, we are doing our job,” said Verschage.