Two weeks ago, along with another route clearance unit, my platoon spearheaded a large operation south of Falluja,. We cleared two routes into the farmland for over six hundred Marines and soldiers who were to operate in the area over the next few days.
The patrol commanders: Hateful 16 (security) and Badger 36 (route clearance)
We traveled to the operation staging area early, and took our places among the tanks, trucks, and other vehicles. The gravel lot of the staging area was bigger than a football field, and the entire surface was filled with lines of vehicles. Marines clustered around groups of trucks making final checks and preparations.
Gator AAV crewmen
A Marine guards weapons by his AAV
The Marines would be leaving some time after we started so as not to be held up on the road by our delays in disarming bombs. Most took the chance to eat another hot meal- the last they would see in days. Others took the opportunity to stock up on other needed commodities.
A Marine focused on the important things
The mission began just before sunset. We drove to the gate, and past the guards. We passed the concrete barriers printed in large red letters “COMPLACENCY KILLS”. We bumped through the ruts of hundreds of tanks and trucks, and out past the perimeter wire. We drove out into the gathering night and started looking for bombs. It was well past dark, and the moon was peeking from behind the clouds when we found the first IED of the night.
IED #1 exploding through thermal sights (credit PFC Strough)
A few hundred meters and not so many minutes later, we found a second bomb. The night was proving busier than we had expected.
The BUFFALO moves in on IED #2
We had completed clearing about two-thirds of the first route when we got the order to turn around and proceed to second route of the evening. Finishing the first route was lower priority than clearing the second and allowing the Marines who would follow us to insert before daylight.
The HUSKY finds a turnaround spot
After a short trip along Route Mobile, the major freeway connecting Ramadi, Falluja, and Baghdad, we pressed down into the darkness along the second route. This route is only a few kilometers from the first, separated by a deep canal. The Marines following us will set up checkpoints and occupy positions in order to catch fleeing insurgents as the first group of Marines sweeps them out.
These roads are familiar territory for us- we patrol them often, and we regularly disable IEDs here. This time, however, there was nothing. As we neared the end, there was a large explosion across the canal. The radio crackled- the Marines had found and detonated a parked car rigged as a VBIED on the first route, further down than we had cleared. They would go on to find several more IEDs. For us, though, the night is almost over.
We reach the limit of our advance and turn around again, threading through the Marines that have already begun to stretch out and dig in behind us. We barely beat the dawn into Falluja, and settle in for the day, exhausted by the constant strain of searching for bombs.
Dawn breaks over the convoy
Teflon Don (SPC Gordon Alanko) is an Army Combat Engineer, currently deployed to Iraq. His writings can be found at Acute Politics.