FORWARD OPERATING BASE HIT, Iraq -- Sticking out the roof of the Humvee, with only his goggles and a scarf to protect his face from the biting Iraqi winter wind, Lance Cpl. Daniel G. Junker scans the road ahead and its shoulders.
From his vantage point in the gunner’s ring, half-hidden behind armor plates and his M240G medium machine gun, Junker serves as the forward-looking set of eyes for the small patrol of green and tan Humvees motoring down the crater-strewn, two-lane highway.
Having left Forward Operating Base Hit, the home of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), only moments earlier, the Hamilton, Ohio native and his fellow Marines have already had an event-filled patrol.
Suspicious roadside mounds, possible indicators of recently buried improvised explosive devices, drew their attention first and then led to a series of nearby farmhouses and palm groves. In less than two hours, the patrol has searched no fewer than six homes looking for arms and insurgents and interacted with at least three dozen Iraqi citizens – and they still have seven hours to go before they can call it quits for the day.
“We basically go out and patrol our unit’s area of operations,” said 2nd Lt. Davis B. Gooding III, of Henrico, Va., a platoon leader in A Co., Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines, the MEU’s ground combat element. “Our mission is to deter insurgent activity and limit their freedom of movement.”
Since they’ve arrived at FOB Hit, Gooding’s Humvee-mounted platoon has run daily patrols into the vast desert, across rolling hills, and through scattered towns and hamlets near the ancient city of Hit. Their vehicle-borne service has earned them the unofficial moniker – ‘the Highway Patrol.’
Gooding frequently orders his Marines to get out of their vehicles and walk along the shoulders both to get a better ‘eyes on’ the surrounding terrain and so they can interact with the locals.
By meeting and talking with the Iraqi citizenry, Gooding and his Marines are able to gain a feel for the locals’ attitude toward the Iraqi government and U.S. forces in the region, and also what their needs are.
“I feel as if we’re really making a difference,” said Gooding, whose wife gave birth to their first child shortly before the MEU set sail in early November. “We get out here and meet the people and find out things we wouldn’t know otherwise.”
Although these combat patrols, conducted both in the day time and at night, are long and dangerous, the Marines are often swarmed by throngs of children as they patrol the Iraqi towns, and report that most Iraqis seem receptive to their presence.
In one town, anti-U.S. graffiti on a building draws the platoon’s attention, and although a quick search of the building reveals nothing tied to the local insurgency, the prompt response of the patrol sends a message on its own.
“They [the insurgents] will know we were here,” said Lance Cpl. Matthew G. Mahler, an Alpha Co. infantryman from Long Island, N.Y., “and they can’t get away with this sort of stuff without getting a response.”
While the majority of these patrols meet little or no resistance, Gooding went on to say their presence is definitely having an impact on insurgent activity in the region.
“They don’t have the freedom they use to,” he said, “and that’s cutting down on their ability to attack the U.S. and coalition forces, and their own people.”
By the time the patrol returns home, their next trip into the Iraqi countryside is already being planned, and after a few hours sleep, they’re back on the road again.
In addition to BLT 1/2, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, MEU Service Support Group 22, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced).
For more information on the 22nd MEU (SOC)’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.