LAKE THAR THAR REGION, Iraq -- Private First Class Sanchez awoke midair inside the back of an armored Assault Amphibian Vehicle. He’d been up all the previous day, all night and finally caught some rest on the early morning ride to his battalion’s first objective – to search for and seize enemy weapons and hideouts.
Sanchez landed back on his seat as the butt stock of his Squad Automatic Weapon crashed against the steel deck. It hardly fazed Jeremiah Peter Sanchez because he and the 12 other squad members had been riding for nearly 10 hours and had been awake for almost 40. That’s just a day in the life of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Squad of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment – and it was just the beginning of Operation Khanjar.
Khanjar, Arabic for dagger, was the spearhead operation to search for insurgent weapons caches. Large amounts of munitions to include 155 mm artillery rounds, large mortars, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, AK-47 rifles and miles of ammunition to support them have been recently uncovered in areas surrounding Fallujah.
The vehicle came to a halt and the Marines rubbed their eyes from the incredible amounts of dusty sand that spewed in from the turret. Sanchez was there to find the insurgents, who have been using the munitions to attack Coalition and Iraqi Forces in guerilla-style combat.
“Doing this is a good thing,” said Sanchez, a 20-year-old Queens, N.Y., native and 2002 graduate of John Adams High School. “It sucks being away from my family for so long, though.”
Sanchez and his platoon have manned an entry control point on the outskirts of Fallujah for several months now. But this operation is the biggest they’ve been in since their arrival here. They put their infantry skills to the test right away.
They dismounted from the back of the vehicle as the hydraulic hatch lowered into the desert sand. Sanchez and 2nd Squad formed a ‘police call’ line, where they spread about five meters apart on a parallel line. They held their weapons in a ‘ready to fire’ position and marched toward a set of tents and structures a quarter mile away bordering Lake Thar Thar.
They entered the first house in a S.W.A.T.-style dynamic entry used in urban combat by the Marines. Sanchez swept through and secured each room. Farmers who lived there were brought outside and questioned as to whether they knew anything about insurgent activity in the area.
“I think doing this kind of work will help for when I go back to New York City,” said Sanchez. “I hope to join the S.W.A.T. team or anti-terrorist unit. Doing this work requires incredible discipline and sacrifice. It’s hard on the body and mind.
“But it’s worth it to make a difference. And I have a smile on my face every day knowing I make some kid or family happy with what we do.”
For the following four days, Sanchez traveled around the desert, searching farmhouses and questioning other locals. Their finds were few – several bayonets, a few AK-47 rifles and other military paraphernalia. It was a step in the right direction, though, according to Sanchez. And it’s brought meaning to his work.
“Our biggest challenge is working together,” said Sanchez. “Little by little we become a brotherhood – like a family. That’s what you definitely need.”