Recon Marines destroy terrorist cell

7 Oct 2007 | Pfc. Brian Jones 2nd Marine Division

Marine infantrymen have a knack for understating the spectacular. When scout snipers with 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6, destroyed a group of insurgents emplacing roadside bombs, the sniper team leader summed it up simply.

“We took the shot, the guys dropped, that’s all she wrote,” said 22-year-old Williamston, Mich., native, Sgt. Kenneth D. Russell, a team leader with 3rd platoon, Company C, 1st Recon Battalion.

The attack on the terrorist cell was motivated by an interest in self-defense. After a long string of improvised explosive devices killed or injured coalition servicemembers and destroyed vehicles, the recon team was dispatched to see what they could do to remedy the situation.

When Russell and his team finally got the call to go ahead, it was nighttime. They were on patrol, conducting sniper operations and watching for any suspicious activity along the route that had been targeted by terrorists.

“We got intelligence from talking to other people in the area, and the area we ended up going to was a bad place,” said Russell. “(Insurgents) were driving back and forth. We took the intelligence and ended up moving further into the area and within an hour of being there, (bad things) started happening.”

The team came upon an empty house. Russell thought it would be a good place to stop and take a look around. Twenty-year-old Gambrills, Md., native, Cpl. Andrew D. Myers, the radio operator, and 21-year-old from Dickson, Tenn., Cpl. Jeffrey D. Baker, the squad automatic weapon gunner, went to check it out and did a quick search of the house. Upon entering, the scene put up red flags for the Marines. First, it was too empty. They knew people lived there, but the domicile looked almost abandoned. Second, livestock was roaming the property unattended.

“People don’t normally leave their farm animals behind, so we got a real funny feeling about it,” Russell said.

Russell decided the team would set up in the house for the time being.

Baker and Myers went to the roof to provide security. Russell and his counterpart, Sgt. Alexander P. MacDonald, a 34-year-old Gladstone, Ore., native, moved on in search of any other houses in the proximity that prove to be a better prospect for surveillance.

When they found no better places for a sniper hide, the two team leaders made their way back to the roof with the others. On the walk back, MacDonald spotted a peculiar wire leading into the courtyard. Tracing it with his eyes, he said he saw it trailing off, out of the courtyard, across the road and onto the opposite side, where it disappeared into a grove of reeds in the ditch.

Such a wire is a good indicator of IEDs intended for manual detonation by a terrorist. When they inspected the area around where the wire led, their suspicions were confirmed: A huge hole had been dug, large enough to hide a small automobile.

Russell and MacDonald went up to the roof to notify the two others of the discovery. The unspoken understanding of warriors used to fighting alongside one another allowed them to come to a consensus without uttering a peep.

“We don’t have to say anything to one another, we just kind of know what each of us is thinking,” Russell said about his team, which has been together for 18 months.

Russell and MacDonald went back out again to clip the command wires and eliminate the threat the IED posed to the situation. They returned to the house to wait, essentially baiting a trap with the terrorists’ own deadly tools.

“That IED was meant for a foot patrol to come through there. It just so happened that night we went out there, there was supposed to be a foot patrol going through there,” Russell said.

An hour and a half later, their patience paid off. Through the thermal goggles they wore, they had noticed movement in the tree line and the reeds 150-175 meters away. They observed two men carrying weapons working with command wire and other materials. Hostile intent had been confirmed.

MacDonald grabbed his sniper rifle. Russell took up his own and spotted for MacDonald. The two proceeded to zero in on their target. They waited for the clear shot. Once they had the clear shot MacDonald took control. In a matter of moments, the fight was over, without the enemy firing a single shot.

Once the target was eliminated, the team secured and stayed clandestine and waited for others to arrive to form security and check the scene. They found a spool of command wire and a battery pack among other materials on the bodies.

“This wasn’t the first time we had been in this situation,” Russell assured. “I don’t think any of us were nervous. We like the adrenaline rush, and that is pretty much what it is out there.”

“I’m very thankful to have my job and very thankful to do my job (when) we’re able to get missions like that one and succeed and ultimately help everyone,” Russell said.

For eliminating a threat in the increasingly peaceful Anbar Province, Russell and his fellow Marines were recognized by the commander of RCT-6, Col. Richard L. Simcock, who gave them each a unit challenge coin and a helping of praise.

“The significance is that those Marines have trained hard and have spent a lot of time to develop the skills they have and they actually got out onto the battlefield and executed them,” Simcock said. “It without a doubt saves Marines’ lives with those two (insurgents) gone. It’s guaranteed that those two will never hurt another Marine, that’s a key thing. That is mission accomplishment for those guys.”

The operation the Marines were being acknowledged for was nothing extraordinary by their definition, but Simcock wanted them to know he appreciated their efforts.

“Some people think it’s just a coin, but there’s more to it than that,” Russell said, “there’s a lot of tradition that goes into the coin and it means a lot…having the regimental commander give you a coin and take time out of his day to acknowledge you said a lot. It’s not something everybody gets a chance to do.”