FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Corporal Darryl Toquinto is a warrior and a Purple Heart recipient who has seen combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and doesn’t mind the lulls that come between missions.
"It's our job to be hot, bored and miserable, but suck it up and carry on with the missions," said the 24-year-old infantryman with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, a unit currently conducting counterinsurgency operations here. "We're here to do a job, and we know we didn't come out here for seven months of sun tanning and sitting in the AC."
Although this Gaithersburg, Md., native and many of his fellow Marines do not relax in air conditioned surroundings, they will certainly leave the country a tad more bronze-colored after months spent baking underneath Iraq's summer sun.
It's nothing out of the ordinary for physically active men like Toquinto, who claimed to have always been athletically inclined. An accomplished soccer player back home, he also worked as a security guard before enlisting in the Marines in July 2002.
"I joined because of September 11. I wanted to come over here to fight and do my part," said Toquinto, who put his career in psychology on hold when he left Montgomery College. "I knew the president needed us, whether it was in Iraq or Afghanistan. My attitude was like, 'let's go.'"
And so he did, as Toquinto and his unit deployed to Afghanistan less than two years after his first day of recruit training. There, he served as part of a Combined Anti-Armor Team, a highly mobile infantry platoon trained to ferret out Taliban fighters from their hiding spots in the country's rocky wilderness expanses.
While in Afghanistan, his battalion killed more than 100 insurgents. Toquinto also became a Purple Heart medal recipient after being shot in the right ankle, and learned valuable leadership skills to use during his future deployment here.
His unit's mission in Iraq began in mid-March, merely six months after they had returned from their previous combat deployment.
Currently, Toquinto serves with his battalion's 4th Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company. As a vehicle commander in one of 4th CAAT's six-truck convoy, he oversees three other Marines and often patrols on foot beside his vehicle as the unit rolls down Fallujah's streets and alleyways.
"We look for IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the city. . .," said Toquinto, explaining how he and other CAAT platoons watch for terrorists placing roadside bombs along the city's streets and main supply transit route. "We'll also do escort missions (for high ranking military officials) every once in a while."
Although many foot-mobile infantrymen here may think their vehicle-mounted counterparts have it easier, operating aboard armored trucks presents the CAAT Marines unique challenges.
"There are times when we ask to do dismounted patrols, because it's so hot inside the truck," Toquinto said. "If it's 120 degrees outside, it'll feel like 150 inside the vehicle."
The Marines do get their fair share of outdoor time, however. In addition to conducting patrolling and observation operations, CAAT personnel man the outer defensive perimeters during certain patrolling and house-to-house search operations.
During these 'Hard Knocks,' as battalion personnel have dubbed these types of missions, Toquinto’s Marines keep citizens inside a designated sector while other infantrymen search the neighborhood for weapons, thus preventing potential terrorists from escaping.
Although 4th CAAT sets in place and remains stationary, Toquinto said his unit has met with success during these operations.
"One time, a guy tried to sneak by us, saying that he was taking his mother to the hospital,” Toquinto said. “He ended up being a target wanted by the battalion."
Fourth CAAT Marines have also unearthed nine IEDs, killed several terrorists involved in laying these roadside bombs, and apprehended several other insurgent supporters. Toquinto's platoon is the only group of Marines within the battalion to have engaged insurgents in a full-fledged firefight with automatic weapons, such as MK-19 grenade launchers and .50 caliber Machine Guns.
For the most part, however, Fallujah and the surrounding areas remain free of major conflict.
"It's easier to tell that you made a difference when you see the terrorists' bodies after a firefight," Toquinto said. "Out here, it's harder to gauge the progress, because it's not that type of war. I know that just by being here, though, we're making a difference by disrupting terrorist activities and showing a presence."
After two combat deployments, Toquinto said he feels he's played his part in helping his Marines and his fellow men. He plans to finish his time in the military and return to his schooling.
"Nowadays, if you're an 03 (0311 infantryman military occupational specialty), you're just going to keep on deploying," he added. "I can't run around with a gun for twenty years of my life; I want to start a family and go back to school."
His desert utilities may soon be hung in some closet or stashed inside a drawer, but Toquinto said the wisdom he's garnered from Marines will never be shelved and put in storage.
"The most valuable thing I've gotten from being in the Marines is learning how much of a help we are to our country. We might not have much freedom while we're out here, but we're helping protect everybody else's. No matter what branch of service you're in or what your job is, everyone is supporting that cause."