FORWARD OPERATING BASE NEW MARKET, Iraq -- Seemingly alone in Iraq's vast desert, a small group of Marines, sailors and Iraqi soldiers are keeping a remote area of Iraq free of insurgent activity for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable).
Based at a newly-established forward operating base dubbed New Market and consisting of elements of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marine Regment and MEU Service Support Group 22, the task force has a wide range of responsibilities that run the gamut of military operations. Such taskings include providing convoy escort, maintaining a quick reaction force, and providing a security presence in the region.
A typical day might involve searching local roadways for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and villages for weapons caches and insurgents.
During a recent such operation, Cpl. Stephen Jordan, a rifleman with Alpha Co., BLT 1/2, put a dent in future insurgent activities.
“What we did was a simple cordon and knock,” explained the Ashland, Ky. Native. “We blocked off the streets with the tanks and went door to door questioning the locals who live near where IEDs have been going off.”
In the course of one such search, undertaken with the help of interpreters and elements of the Iraqi army, Jordan found an IED pressure detonator that no doubt would one day be placed in the path of an oncoming coalition or civilian vehicle.
“I was searching an office filing cabinet and the item looked suspicious,” he said. “Last year when I was on ship and later in Iraq we had a lot of EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) classes, so we know what we’re looking for.”
“Today was definitely a success because we didn’t take any casualties, but showed them [the insurgents] we weren’t playing around,” said Jordan. “As long as they’re scared, they’ll make mistakes, and when they do, we’ll get them.”
According to 1st Lt. Brent Jones, A Company’s executive officer, in addition to counterinsurgency patrols, humanitarian assistance is a another mission the Marines undertake when possible.
“Whenever we roll out we have extra food, whether it’s MREs [meals ready to eat] or hard candy from care packages, to pass out to the locals in need,” Jones said. “We also encourage the docs to give aid if possible.”
One such corpsman is Petty Officer 3rd Class Max Elia, of Buffalo, N.Y., a Fleet Marine Force-qualified corpsman with A Company.
“I give aid to everyone I can because no matter what, regardless of culture, I don’t want to see people suffer,” said Elia, who was awarded the Purple Heart medal for wounds sustained during his previous tour in Iraq.
“It was pretty cool,” said Lance Cpl. Paul Morozov, of Brooklyn, N.Y., an A Co., rifleman, commenting on the response he received from Iraqi children when he distributed muffins to them. “Nobody told us to take muffins to those kids, it’s just being nice. Seeing their smiles and talking to the little kids is definitely uplifting.”
“We always give a lot of stuff to the kids,” added Jordan. “Someday they’ll remember us and come running to us and say they saw a bad man planting an IED and that will save someone’s life.”
Although removed from the rest of the 22nd MEU (SOC) and its parent battalion, the M-1A1 tankers, mortar crews, and infantrymen manning FOB New Market feel as if they’re having successes in helping Iraq.
“After seeing what’s going on here now, I think that we’re doing some good,” said Petty Officer Elia, who admits he was a bit frustrated after his first tour in Iraq. As for his life at New Market, he adds, “I like it out here on the line, it’s the best life ever.”
The Marines with BLT 1/2 and MSSG-22 are currently deployed as the ground combat and combat service support elements of the 22nd MEU (SOC), which also includes its Command Element and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced). The MEU is currently conducting counterinsurgency operations with the 2nd Marine Division in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
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.