COMBAT OUTPOST RAWAH, IRAQ -- First Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, launched Marines in support of operation “Valiant Guardian” April 5, 2007.
The operation covered most of RCT-2’s area of operation, or AO, which is roughly 30,000 miles, the size of South Carolina, and extends through the western Euphrates River valley.
According to military officials the main purpose of the operation is to identify and disrupt the insurgent’s freedom of movement throughout the valley, find and eliminate insurgent safe-havens, and establish trust and communication with the local Iraqi civilians.
“In western Al Anbar, the fight has traditionally centered on its urban centers,” said Col. Stacy Clardy, the commanding officer for RCT-2. “Now we are going after the enemy in those remote areas of the province where they may hide or use to move around us, leaking into the interior of the country. We plan to shake things up.”
First LAR has continuously encountered success so far during the first week of its participation in the operation, and its Marines say they have high hopes for the rest of the operation.
“It is very important that we go out after these guys (insurgents),” said Sgt. Mark A. Zimmerman, the battalion’s chief scout. “If we don’t go out after them, they are just going to sit out there and continue terrorizing people.”
Lt. Col. Kelly P. Alexander, the battalion commander for 1st LAR, isn’t just tasking out his Marines, he is instead leading from the front and joining them in the search and elimination of insurgent activity.
“It definitely inspires us that he is willing to get his own hands dirty,” said Seaman Larry J. Threadgill, a corpsman with the battalion. “We know he can’t change Iraq by himself, but he is definitely rallying the AO and taking charge.”
According to Zimmerman, a Marathon, Texas, native, 1st LAR has been using raids, air reconnaissance, and light armored vehicles to sweep the area and search for insurgent activity.
The battalion’s success has led it to uncover nearly a dozen caches of weapons.
“We took a lot of valuable weapons off the streets and reduced activity already within our area,” said Sgt. Randy M. Roedema, chief scout with the battalion’s quick reaction force, or QRF. “Most of our success has been in the dried up riverbeds and shallow caves.”
The QRF assisted Company C throughout most of the early stages of the operation, and has been present during the uncovering of several caches.
According to Roedema, a Thornton, Colo., native, the battalion has found numerous 105mm, 120mm, and 155mm artillery rounds, 80mm mortar rounds, about a half dozen rockets, propellant, and several dozen small arm weapons and ammunition.
In addition to the weapons, the battalion has also captured a number of individuals who have conducted acts of intimidation and murder.
The Marines say they can tell they are making a difference with the civilians.
"They (Iraqi civilians) say they feel safer when we come over the horizon,” said Zimmerman, an Operation Enduring Freedom veteran. “We can tell the difference too because all the kids come outside and everyone waves when we roll by a town.”
Roedema credits the unit’s success to their high mobility.
“We are the fastest moving unit on the ground, and our firepower makes us a huge factor,” Roedema explained.
“The important thing is that we continue to find insurgents and caches to make this place safer for the Iraqi people, so they don’t have to worry about improvised explosive devices, or be afraid of letting their kids walk to school,” Zimmerman said.