FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Few people get to see into the world of the reconnaissance Marines. The recon community is a close-knit, and sometimes very private, world of professionals with special skills in gathering information and operating on the battlefield.
“The history and origin of Marine Reconnaissance dates back to World War II and the Raider Battalion. Today’s recon Marines and sailors are very proud of their history and heritage, and do not want to sully it or let their forefathers down. It is a heavy but welcomed burden that is not taken lightly,” said 1st Sgt. Carlo Gaita, company first sergeant, B Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 6.
1st Reconnaissance Battalion relieved 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion in place in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in April, continuing the Marine recon’s presence in the area.
A reconnaissance team is the fundamental unit of the reconnaissance battalion. Each is carefully structured to meet the intense mission demands of a dynamic combat environment. Iraq’s battlefield is no different than those of previous wars. It requires mature, independent decision-makers to act with little direction or structure. Currently, the battalion has re-focused its efforts on team level operations to support the infantryman in the field.
Reconnaissance units operate in a variety of sizes, but nothing compares to the bond of a team. It is a bond Sgt. Raymond J. Blackwell, a team leader in 2nd Platoon, B Company, has cultivated amongst his Marines.
“From the beginning of when the team was formed until now, it's been my job to prepare the guys for combat and to maintain that throughout the deployment. (I have) to make sure they’re trained mentally and physically for the environment we're operating in," said Blackwell, a Simi Valley, Calif., native and 2002 graduate of Grace Brethren High School.
Blackwell’s high standards have created an environment where his team members don’t necessarily need to speak to communicate, according to Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Pape, a member of Blackwell’s team.
“It’s great to be in a team where everyone understands each other without a word having to be said,” said Pape, a 20-year-old native of East Grand Forks, Minn.
These silent professionals have had 11 months of intense training to include close quarter battle, urban reconnaissance and surveillance, and dynamic entry (breaching); prior to completing training as a company at Mojave Viper in the deserts of California.
Some of the special schools attended by the individual Marines and sailors include scout sniper school, combat man-tracker course, Marine combatant dive school, helicopter rope suspension training (HRST) and airborne school. Adding to the success of the team is combat experience from the team’s leadership.
Each member in the team has his own responsibility and specialty. For example, the scout sniper takes precession shots from long ranges, and the radio operator keeps up communications and relays messages from the team leader to the rear.
A family shrouded in mystery, the leathernecks of 1st Recon produce swift, silent and deadly results. They carry out whatever missions may come their way, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We’re always watching; there’s nowhere they can hide. We work in the enemy’s backyard without them even knowing they’re being watched and targeted,” Blackwell said.