BAGHDAD, Iraq -- After a week of serving as the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)’s Quick Reaction Force or QRF, Alpha Co., Battalion Landing Team 1/1, recently got their chance to get their hands dirty by taking over an area of operations in southern Baghdad for a ten-day mission.
The 15th MEU is currently conducting security and stabilization operations in the Greater Baghdad area where it has sent multiple companies into urban and rural areas to conduct patrols to disrupt enemy activity in an area that has been left relatively unmonitored for the past two years.
In mid-March, Bravo and Charlie Co.’s were flown into southern Baghdad’s farming provinces to patrol the area and seek out any insurgents conducting operations. For the first six days of these patrols, Alpha Co. stood poised at the Forward Operating Base, ready to support the other companies if needed.
Now getting ready to take on a mission of their own, Alpha Co. faced a number of challenges like deciding what everyone would take to the field. “It was extremely challenging deciding what to carry,” said Capt. Robert B. Farrell, 30, of Frederick Co., Md., and commanding officer of Alpha Co. “We had to pack light since we would be on foot for ten days but some weather reports showed temperatures down in the 40’s at night, so we had to decide whether or not to sacrifice the extra weight for staying warm at night.”
Since the area they inserted into had not had any military presence in a while, they weren’t sure of the enemy situation or how the locals would react to their presence. “When we got there we really didn’t know where to even begin, so we basically sent a patrol out in each direction to see what they turn up,” Farrell said.
“What we were trying to do was gather intelligence from the locals and ‘paint a picture’ of the area for the Army when they take over,” said 2nd Lt. Jeb Stuart Duke II, 23, of Louisville, Ky., and 2nd platoon commander for Alpha Co. “We did a lot of door-to-door knocking, just conversing with the locals trying to get a feel for the area and what the area was like.”
The Army’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment is scheduled to take over the 15th MEU’s (SOC) area of operations in mid-April and the Marines were trying to gather as much intelligence as possible for them when they assume the battle space.
For 10 days, Alpha Co. sent out patrols nearly non-stop searching for anything that looked suspicious or could be beneficial to the Army soldiers taking over the area. The company mainly gathered their intelligence by conducting “cordon and knocks” which is where the Marines cordon off the area around a house making sure that no one enters or leaves the area as other Marines knock on the door of the house and talk with the residents.
There were a few obstacles that the Marines had to deal with that made each day a little more challenging. “The all-day patrols left some of the Marines with blistered feet at the end of the day, and then they had to deal with the bitter cold at night,” according to Gunnery Sgt. Ricardo Rivero, 33, of Hobart Okla., the Alpha Co. gunnery sergeant.
During the all-day patrols, the Marines carefully rationed their water supplies to ensure it lasted through the patrol. Everyone was also issued two Meal’s Ready to Eat per day, which they would snack on throughout the patrol. Because the company often moved their patrol base, they only carried one day of food and water which required a daily replenishment of supplies.
“Resupply [missions] were challenging for the company since every time a ground convoy set out to resupply us they were putting their lives in danger due to [Improvised Explosive Devices] planted along the roads,” said Farrell. “The preferred method of resupply is by helicopter but even that is uncertain each time due to weather and the possibility of enemy fire.”
Although the long patrols left the Marines weary, they stayed focused on the task at hand. “Everyone was beat at the end of the day but we knew we had a job to do and that kept us moving,” said Cpl. Dwayne D. Maclin, 21, of Puxico, Mo., a machine gunner for Alpha Co.
In addition to the physical challenges, the company also dealt with language barrier. The communications gap was bridged by host-nation translators, Army interpreters, and an intelligence Marine from the 15th MEU (SOC), who were all attached to Alpha Co. for the mission.
While gathering information, Alpha Co. also helped conduct two Humanitarian Aid missions at schools in their area of operations. The 15th MEU’s MEU Service Support Group 15 provided locals with medical and dental care while Alpha Co. manned a vehicle check point and security positions in and around the school. The company searched all vehicles passing by the school and all personnel seeking health care.
The Marines were unaware how the locals would react when first inserted into the area. Surprisingly, the local reaction was more positive than many had expected. “Most of the locals seemed happy to see us there and enjoyed our help,” said Cpl Gabriel James, 24, an infantry man and native of Logansport Ind.
“Almost all of the farmers and locals were very hospitable and cooperative when we tried to talk to them,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Broughton, 24, of Portland, Ore., the 1st platoon commander. “Some of the people told us that a most of the bad guys left when they heard that the Marines were coming.”
During the daily patrols, the Marines also covered numerous roads, sweeping for IEDs and any suspicious activities along the routes. “During the ten days we searched more than 400 vehicles and 200 farms and dwellings,” said Farrell. “We didn’t know if we would be stepping into a good, bad, or medium situation but we covered a lot of ground once we got there.”
“Despite some challenges and long days and nights, everything went smoothly,” Farrell added. “We had a few sprained ankles and minor injuries but in the end, (reaches down and knocks on the wooden floor) every body made it back safely.”