HADITHA DAM, Iraq -- In Iraq, a land made of mostly sand, rock, and extremely hot temperatures, the average person might not think that there was much need for boats in this austere climate.
The two major rivers that run through Iraq, Tigris and Euphrates are the life blood of this arid land. In addition to water for irrigating the crops, the rivers support several hydroelectric plants like Haditha dam and boats are an important part of keeping the dam safe from insurgents.
That’s why more than 80 Marines with the Dam Security Unit patrol the waters around the hydroelectric power plant everyday. Thanks to them, the dam continues to supply power to thousands of Iraqi people and safely house Coalition Forces operating in the area.
“We patrol the water around the dam at least once or twice a day to make sure there is no illegal boat traffic or vessel-born [improvised explosive devices] that could damage the dam,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Lockwood, a Galveston, Texas native and section leader for the unit.
The Marines’ boats operate on both sides of the dam. They have a team that operates on the Euphrates River and one that operates on the man-made reservoir called Lake Qadisiyah.
Currently attached to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, the unit is made up of mostly Reservists, hailing from Reserve Stations all around the country and from all different job fields, who volunteered to operate the boats.
“In this unit, we have trackers, gunners, mechanics, operators, supply guys, optics techs, lots of different talents,” commented 26 year-old Lockwood. “It is great because people also use their civilian careers to help the mission. We are a self-sufficient unit.”
The unit also has a few active-duty Marines that help the unit accomplish their mission. Four of them were actually part of an active-duty small craft unit that operated in Iraq before it was decommissioned a few months ago.
“The small craft guys bring expertise to the unit because they have been doing it for some time,” Lockwood said. “The same guys that are here with us were ones that taught at the school where we all learned how to operate the boats.”
Before the unit deployed to Iraq, they traveled from their hometowns to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., for training. They spent more than three months learning how to operate, maintain, and perform missions aboard the $750,000-dollar boats.
“We learned how to perform combat missions and do evasive maneuvers with the boats,” Lockwood said. “These boats are pretty amazing in the water.”
The boats come with twin, turbo-charged diesel engines that give the boats more than 850 horsepower. At full throttle with a combat load, the Riverine Craft can do a speed of about 40 mph.
“Even though the boats are really heavy, we can go from full throttle to a complete stop in three boat lengths,” added Lockwood
Even though everyday has become a kind of routine for the Marines, many of them really enjoy being a part of this unique unit. For Marines like Lance Cpl. Jose N. Loya, an Amarillo, Texas, native and bow gunner for the unit, coming out to Iraq to be part of the DSU has been a once in a lifetime experience.
“Who would’ve thought someone from Amarillo, Texas, with no bodies of water for hours, would be spend seven months in Iraq doing boat missions almost everyday,” said Loya.