FORWARD OPERATING BASE HIT, Iraq -- Trudging along the muddy riverbanks of the Euphrates, Lance Cpl. Hugh J. Murphy battled terrain, physical stress and constant enemy threat to tear down the insurgent arsenal one cache at a time.
This kind of enduring vigilance has rendered many rewards. During Operation Koa Canyon, Iraqi Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Infantry Division and Murphy along with his fellow infantrymen of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, discovered weapons caches and caught men intending to use them.
“We’ve definitely made it harder for them to fight us,” said the Pittsburgh native as he slogged through an onion field beside his Iraqi counterparts. “It’s obvious where the insurgents are.”
Marines would happen upon freshly-turned soil as they made their way through the fields, prompting the call for combat engineers. Much of the artillery, mortar, and other weapon caches were uncovered because of the engineers and their mine detectors.
“Being a former combat engineer, I was in heaven,” said 1st Sgt. Anthony Cruz. “The caches were unbelievable. We’d set up security on one and have to keep moving because we were finding so much.
“For every rocket and mortar we found, that’s one less person killed,” said the Bronx, N.Y., native. “One less IED, one less American dead, one more innocent Iraqi saved. That’s how I look at the numbers.”
By remaining watchful near one such cache, the Marines of A Company caught a man attempting to retrieve his deadly booty.
“We stayed up all night in the rain," said Lance Cpl. Andrew L. Cave, of Cherokee Village, Ark. "None of us really got any sleep, but that morning it was all worth it. We got him.”
“We could have found all of the explosives in Iraq, but if we didn’t catch the bad guys, they would just get more,” he said.
Throughout the next eight days and nights, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers dutifully battled sandstorms, numbing cold and rain, and the ever-present enemy threat. Nearing the completion of their mission, one Marine’s situational awareness prevented a potentially deadly attack.
“We had a vehicle checkpoint set up and Sgt. (Mark S.) Grimm spotted a rocket tube on the hillside near our position,” said platoon commander 2nd Lt. William H. Strom, of Tallahassee, Fla.
When the Marines shot the azimuth, it was pointed directly at Forward Operating Base Hit, said Cruz. That base had already been hit a few times by indirect fire. These insurgents weren’t going to get another chance.
After finding the rocket tube, Iraqi soldiers enthusiastically searched the surrounding hillside and apprehended two men for questioning. The two men were later released, but the IA soldiers showed the Marines they were serious about battling the insurgency.
“It got emotional watching them catch those two guys,” said Cruz. “It means that we’re one step closer to ending this war. The bad guys are still out there, and we still have work to do here; not much, but we’re getting closer.”
After scouring 43 miles between Baghdadi and Hit during the ten-day task with three Iraqi soldiers in his fire team, rifleman Lance Cpl. Earnest K. Hannah, of Williamson, W.V., attests to the muscle of Iraqi soldiers.
“The IAs (Iraqi Army soldiers) were pretty good for the past ten days. If they had a little more training and leadership, I know they could be better, but they were good to go,” said the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran. “They get better every year.”
In addition to Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, the 22nd MEU (SOC) consists of its Command Element, MSSG-22, and HMM-261 (Rein), and is conducting counter-insurgency operations with an Iraqi Army battalion, under the tactical control of the 2nd Marine Division.