FORWARD OPERATING BASE HIT, Iraq -- From his vantage point in the front passenger seat of his armored Humvee, Sgt. Ernest Twigg keeps his head on a swivel. Leaning forward on the thinly-padded seat, his head is in constant motion as he scours the roadway ahead for anything out of the ordinary.
Such vigilance is well worth the effort. Only days earlier, Twigg and his fellow infantrymen in the Combined Anti-Armor Team of Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marine Regiment, came upon a patch of suspicious roadway and upon investigation, discovered a large artillery shell planted as a roadside bomb.
“It was rigged to blow as a vehicle passed beside it,” said the 27-year-old Cocoa Beach, Fla. native, who reentered the Marine Corps in 2004 after a four-year hiatus following his first enlistment. “This is what we’re constantly dealing with.”
Twigg’s daily patrols to secure the volatile highways of roads of Iraq’s Al Anbar province are part of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)’s ongoing counterinsurgency efforts in the region, and are fraught with danger.
In early January, a section of CAAT vehicles accompanied a platoon from BLT 1/2’s A Company on a patrol near Forward Operating Base Hit, and was able to land a one-two punch on the insurgents plaguing Iraq’s highways.
“Every once in a while we’ll dismount and walk alongside the vehicles,” said Twigg as he shouldered his M-4 carbine and began walking along the road’s shoulder as his Humvee kept pace. “We do this so we can get a better, more detailed look than if we were driving. By walking we get better [situational awareness].”
No sooner had Twigg explained himself than the column of vehicles and Marines came to a screeching halt. Further ahead, the point element had discovered a suspicious pile of rocks and concrete covering an IED. Immediately establishing a defensive cordon around the site, the patrol leader, 2nd Lt. Davis Gooding Jr., called for Explosive Ordnance Disposal.
“We’ll bring EOD up to deal with it,” explained the Henrico, Va., native. “Until then we’ll maintain a perimeter around the IED to keep ourselves and the locals safe.”
While waiting for the EOD technicians to arrive, the Marines in the patrol kept a vigilant eye to the surrounding terrain, and after a few minutes, noticed a pair of men across the nearby Euphrates River acting suspiciously near another road.
“We kept them under observation for a while then determined they were planting another IED,” said Gooding.
Using high power scopes and binoculars, the Marines correctly determined the pair’s intent and engaged them, killing both just as EOD arrived on the scene.
Working with time-honed expertise, the joint Navy-Marine EOD team destroyed the IED in place. Meanwhile, elements of the patrol jumped aboard a CH-46E Sea Knight from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Reinforced), the MEU’s aviation combat element, to get a closer look at the bomb placement site across the river.
“There was a shovel and stack of rockets near the men,” said Gooding, who examined the scene, “so we were able to stop them just in time.”
After the engagement and the IED was destroyed, the patrol continued its mission, knowing that danger lurks around every corner.
“We just had some successes,” said Twigg, commenting on the IED discovery and destruction of the insurgent IED team, “but we always have to be on alert and they (the insurgents) have to know we’ll be ready for them.”
In addition to BLT 1/2 and HMM-261 (Rein), the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element and MEU Service Support Group 22, and is in Iraq working with the 2nd Marine Division.
For more information on the MEU’s role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, visit the unit’s web site at http://www.22meu.usmc.mil.