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Commanders of the various platoons and companies of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines go through a "rock walk" on Tuesday, a dry run through a model of the apartment complex raided Wednesday morning.
Commanders of the various platoons and companies of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines go through a "rock walk" on Tuesday, a dry run through a model of the apartment complex raided Wednesday morning. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Commanders of the various platoons and companies of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines go through a "rock walk" on Tuesday, a dry run through a model of the apartment complex raided Wednesday morning.
Commanders of the various platoons and companies of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines go through a "rock walk" on Tuesday, a dry run through a model of the apartment complex raided Wednesday morning. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Col. David Berger, the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, scans an intelligence report prior to Wednesday's raid.
Col. David Berger, the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, scans an intelligence report prior to Wednesday's raid. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Cpl. Caleb Tipton, 21, of a sniper team, prepares a field sketch of the "objective," a 10-building apartment complex U.S. Marines raided early Wednesday.
Cpl. Caleb Tipton, 21, of a sniper team, prepares a field sketch of the "objective," a 10-building apartment complex U.S. Marines raided early Wednesday. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Staff Sgt. T.J. Ford, 31, left, and Staff Sgt. Colin Husband, with EOD, check water tanks atop the 3-story apartment buildings for any weapons or contraband during the raid. Nothing, including water, was found in the eight tanks they checked.
Staff Sgt. T.J. Ford, 31, left, and Staff Sgt. Colin Husband, with EOD, check water tanks atop the 3-story apartment buildings for any weapons or contraband during the raid. Nothing, including water, was found in the eight tanks they checked. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
A young Haitian girl peeks through blinds of one of the apartments as roughly 300 U.S. Marines raided the 10-building apartment complex.
A young Haitian girl peeks through blinds of one of the apartments as roughly 300 U.S. Marines raided the 10-building apartment complex. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — In the predawn hours Wednesday, Capt. Sean Connelly ticked off a last-minute checklist with his Marines of Kilo Company just before rolling out for a raid in a hostile area near the city’s port.

“But what I want most today is to have 121 people coming back here,” he said at 4:34 a.m. as Marines awaited their 5:06 a.m. rollout from their main headquarters. “Even though this is the freakin’ mother of all raids we’ve done, let’s make sure we do it all right. Muzzles elevated, but don’t point them at Haitian nationals.”

Kilo Company was but one element of Wednesday’s mission, the largest that Marines of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines has conducted since arriving in early March, and one for which Marines and their commanders prepped for four days.

More than 300 Marines from three companies, security platoons, explosive ordnance disposal experts, communications and soldiers of the Army’s Psychological Operations battalion slogged through streets polluted with trash and human excrement to raid the 10 pastel pink, purple and green apartment buildings.

It was an area suspected to be home to gang members hostile to patrolling U.S. forces, who have come under fire several times in recent weeks.

The mission also included 18 National Haitian Police SWAT members, who stormed apartments alongside the Marines.

The search yielded just one handgun, a bit of a disappointment because the primary reason for raiding the complex had been to seize weapons used in recent attacks on Marine convoys.

They also found stolen vehicles, computers and suspected cocaine and marijuana, some in plain view as they entered the apartments, either by residents opening their doors to Marines, or with a sledge hammer.

Marines detained three Haitian men in the apartment where the suspected drugs were found, and turned over the evidence and the men to Haitian police.

While the operation itself ran smoothly, commanders said afterward, the preparation for it could have gone better. And perhaps some of the missteps tipped off the would-be suspects.

For example, a three-hour reconnaissance mission early Tuesday was compromised, said Battalion Commander Col. David Berger.

“You might as well have had a sign saying ‘we’re looking at you,’” an annoyed Berger said Tuesday as he made his rounds to the recon and sniper units who had been surveying the complex for more than 24 hours. “The information [collected] was good, the method was all wrong. But that’s part of the learning experience.”

Wednesday morning, one balcony displayed an American flag, which Marines said was suspect because residents either sympathize with the chimere, a gang who fought in support of ousted president Jean Bertrand-Aristide, or are subject to the gang’s intimidation tactics.

Some residents interviewed said they welcomed U.S. forces. “I think it’s a good thing for them to take weapons off the bandits,” 23-year-old Billy Dorseus said through a translator.

However, the “bandits” don’t live in the complex, said Dorseus and 20-year-old Pierre Peter.

“They come from time to time. And the police come to fight them off, and they shoot and then we are victims,” Dorseus said.

When asked if they trusted the local police, the eight people gathered at the entrance of one building replied “no” in unison.

Under Aristide, the police had a reputation of being corrupt, which many feel is still true, despite his expulsion, Berger said. Having them work and practice with Marines is an effort to restore their credibility.

And for Connelly, as with the rest of the battalion, main mission accomplished.

“We went out with 121 human beings, and we came back with 121. In spite of a few problems, you all did a freakin’ outstanding job.”

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