On second tour, Marine unit skirts Fallujah
FALLUJAH, Iraq — For many of the Marines who fought their way through this city in western Iraq in some of the heaviest action of the three-year war – and who are back again — the mission has fundamentally changed.
Instead of fighting house to house, the Marines are engaging in counterinsurgency operations, training Iraqi security forces and helping rebuild the city. Units on the outskirts of the city spend much of their time patrolling main routes, conducting selected raids and keeping the roads clear of bombs.
Members of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines were among the leading elements in the massive assault on Fallujah in November 2004. After finishing that tour, they had approximately nine months at home before they came back in mid-January for another “pump.” This time, they are stationed at smaller outposts ringing the city, with another Marine battalion stationed downtown.
Company L, or Lima Company, occupies a small base about a mile from the infamous span — now known as “Blackwater Bridge” — where the bodies of four contractors were burned and hung, precipitating the mass assault on the city.
This week, members of a Mobile Assault Platoon patrolled the areas around the base. For some members of the team who fought in the battle of Fallujah, being posted in the city could, in one sense, be more dangerous this year.
“It’s probably better that we’re not back in the city,” Staff Sgt. Eric Brown said. “Some of the Marines would probably say, ‘I know these streets,’ and they might get complacent.”
Ubiquitous spray-painted signs on walls around the small base remind Marines that “complacency kills.” An equal number read: “Someone out there wants to kill you. Are YOU going to give THEM the chance?”
The MAP teams conduct an array of missions. One night this week, they were patrolling area roads when called to the site of a possible roadside bomb between Habbaniya and Fallujah. The Marines dismounted from armored Humvees and scoured the area on both sides of the road.
After several minutes, they determined there were no explosives in the area. This year, unlike last year in the city, roadside bombs have become their main worry.
The battalion lost several Marines during the assault on Fallujah, officials said, many to small-arms fire. This year, three have been killed: one by a sniper, and two by an improvised explosive.
On Thursday night, as the sound of a firefight echoed across the river from downtown, one Marine stood behind a wall at the patrol base and a took a drag on his cigarette.
“I did that crazy stuff last year,” he said. “I think I like this mission better.”