HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- Many units with Regimental Combat Team 2 found themselves in intense firefights during the opening days of Operation Steel Curtain.
In the midst of the operation, some found themselves helping civilians move away from the fighting and others were uncovering weapon caches within the city.
Marines and Sailors with 2nd Platoon, Company D, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, found themselves taking part in all aspects of the operation … all in one day.
“Our original mission was to sweep and barricade an underpass to prevent people from crossing,” said Sgt. Robert E. Canales, the 25-year-old chief scout for the platoon. “We uncovered a ‘convoy killer (improvised explosive device)’ consisting of three sites with five mortar rounds varying in size and one propane tank ‘daisy-chained’ together. This was the beginning of a long day.”
They disconnected the IED from its power source and left the site under observation waiting for the combat engineers to arrive and destroy it. While waiting, they received an order to investigate a small group of civilians moving on the outskirts of the city.
They discovered an older woman and two children trying to the leave the city behind a security line set up around the city.
“We approached them and tried to calm them down while offering them a ride to a displaced persons area that had been set up outside the city,” the San Fernando, Calif., native said. “They refused so we let other units know about them and they continued on to another village.”
They returned to the IED observation site and received another mission. This time they were to sweep a nearby graveyard for any weapons caches with a metal detector.
“We didn’t want to disrespect these graves so we provided security while our engineer swept the area,” Canales, a 1997 Western High School graduate, remarked.
After searching for a few minutes, the metal detector sounded and they dug in the grave and less than two feet down they discovered dozens of ammo crates.
“It was kind of creepy and we were worried that we had made a mistake, but thankfully we were right,” said Cpl. Joshua D. Jackson, a 21-year-old combat engineer from Mt. Vernon, Ind. “It makes you think how horrible they are to desecrate a cemetery like that.”
While the digging continued to uncover more boxes, combat engineers, 1st Lt. James P. Donovan and Pfc. Michael D. O’Neill, arrived with explosives to destroy the IED site and cache find.
As the engineers assessed the situation and prepared to destroy the cache, a sentry noticed armed men moving in houses on the opposite side of the bridge.
“We surprised them by attacking first and they returned fire shortly after,” Canales said. “We then attacked them with small rockets before calling for vehicle support and marking the building.”
An hour later, the engineers returned to work on the IEDs and were soon receiving machine gun fire from different houses. The vehicles returned fire, providing cover as the engineers finished their work and left.
Jackson and others at the graveyard continued to uncover ammo crates in the grave while the engineers made their way back to their location.
“It feels good to take munitions like that and then to fight them on their own ground,” said Jackson, a 2002 Mt. Vernon High School graduate. “Then we come back here (to the cache site) and take more from them it’s just an incredible feeling.”
They continued to dig well after sunset before retiring for the night and found more ammo crates the following day. In the end, the final count was 118 ammo crates.
“I hope we reach the day when we don’t find anything else because there’s nothing left to find,” said a hopeful Jackson. “Until then, we will continue to do our jobs. Like I say: find it, blow it and go on with another day.”
“This really shows the flexibility of these Marines,” said Canales. “To go from a security mission, to a humanitarian assistance mission, to searching for and finding weapons and explosives, and then ultimately doing what we have all been trained to do by fighting our enemy.
“I’m proud of these guys for their actions out there. It feels good to know that you’ve done your job and knowing that I’ve done it with these Marines makes it feel all the better.”