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A muffler sits in the middle of a major highway east of Fallujah in a spot blackened by an earlier roadside bomb explosion. The roadway is notorious for roadside bombs and sniper attacks. Three Marines with Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, were killed in separate attacks on the road in December.
A muffler sits in the middle of a major highway east of Fallujah in a spot blackened by an earlier roadside bomb explosion. The roadway is notorious for roadside bombs and sniper attacks. Three Marines with Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, were killed in separate attacks on the road in December. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
A muffler sits in the middle of a major highway east of Fallujah in a spot blackened by an earlier roadside bomb explosion. The roadway is notorious for roadside bombs and sniper attacks. Three Marines with Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, were killed in separate attacks on the road in December.
A muffler sits in the middle of a major highway east of Fallujah in a spot blackened by an earlier roadside bomb explosion. The roadway is notorious for roadside bombs and sniper attacks. Three Marines with Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, were killed in separate attacks on the road in December. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
After determining Tuesday that a muffler in the middle of a major highway was not a roadside bomb, a member of an explosive ordnance disposal team chucks it onto the shoulder of the roadway.
After determining Tuesday that a muffler in the middle of a major highway was not a roadside bomb, a member of an explosive ordnance disposal team chucks it onto the shoulder of the roadway. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Staff Sgt. Richard Schmitt, 29, with 1st Platoon, Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, shakes hands with an Iraqi after helping tow the man’s car out of a sand pit Tuesday on a major highway east of Fallujah.
Staff Sgt. Richard Schmitt, 29, with 1st Platoon, Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, shakes hands with an Iraqi after helping tow the man’s car out of a sand pit Tuesday on a major highway east of Fallujah. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Working as quickly as possible, Marines with 1st Platoon, Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, hitch an Assault Amphibious tracked vehicle to another one after a breakdown near the end of a patrol mission Tuesday near Fallujah.
Working as quickly as possible, Marines with 1st Platoon, Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion, hitch an Assault Amphibious tracked vehicle to another one after a breakdown near the end of a patrol mission Tuesday near Fallujah. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

FALLUJAH, Iraq — The mammoth green, tracked vehicles lumber up and down the highway, an ominous presence seldom messed with by insurgents who take on Marines with small-arms or sniper fire.

Insurgents have taken to calling the assault amphibious vehicles “green dragons,” Marines have learned.

“They don’t want to fire on the ‘green dragon,’” said Capt. Eric Dominijanni, commanding officer of Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion.

For from the dragon’s belly can spring “pissed off, under-sexed, crazed Marines who’ll stomp ‘em.”

“We’re a show of force, a major deterrent to make these roadways safe,” he said.

But they’re not invincible.

The battalion has suffered three fatalities in roadside bomb attacks and sniper fire since arriving in Fallujah in September, Dominijanni said.

Portraits of the three Marines hang in the command center’s foyer, a reminder that the battalion won’t be returning to Camp Lejeune, N.C., with all their brethren. Lance Cpl. Jesse Tillery was killed Dec. 2; Lance Cpl. Luke Yepsen was killed Dec. 14; Cpl. Joshua Pickard was killed Dec. 19.

“That’s the hardest thing for me, going home without all my Marines,” the 34-year-old captain from Queens, N.Y., said.

In Iraq, use of the assault amphibious vehicles strays from its primary purpose as a ship-to-shore troop transport vehicle. Looking at it, one might not believe that the thing can float. It does, assured several Marines, who have nicknamed the 27-ton vehicle “gator” for the way it looks while moving in water.

It might seem odd to see the beasts lumbering along the highways, but “we’re a huge deterrent out there,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Schmitt, section leader of 1st Platoon, Company B, Assault Amphibious Battalion under Regimental Combat Team 6.

The hulking vehicles can withstand roadside bomb blasts better than Humvees, he said, and they bring more firepower to the fight.

But the aim, of course, is to avoid setting off roadside bombs in the first place, he said.

During a routine patrol Tuesday along the notoriously dangerous main road near Fallujah, Marines spotted what looked like a muffler in the middle of the road, in a spot already blackened from a previous attack.

The AAVs closed both sides of the main thoroughfare, keeping traffic at bay as they radioed and then waited for more than an hour for an explosive ordnance team to come check it out.

It was a dud.

Just a muffler.

Schmitt was happy.

“This is a hot spot and a lot of things happen here,” Schmitt said. “Anything can be an [roadside bomb]. We’d rather be safe than sorry.”

The AAV, in Dominijanni’s opinion, is “one of the best platforms in the Marine Corps,” he said. “It’s so versatile, is one of the best command-and-control platforms, can carry up to 18 infantry Marines and all their gear, can go off road, and with the space, can medevac … casualties if necessary.”

“It does everything but fly, and I’m sure someone in Washington is working on that.”

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