RUTBAH, Iraq --
As the sun beams down on the backs of sand-covered Marines and Iraqi soldiers, a small explosion goes off and a cloud of smoke rises to the sky. No one seeks cover or shouts warnings of ‘incoming,’ but instead Marines and Iraqi soldiers calmly ignore the blast and continue their trek through the desert.
In this operation, success was measured on how many times small explosions break the desert calm as Marines of Regimental Combat Team 8 and the Iraqi Army’s 7th Field Engineering Regiment swept through a patch of desert outside the town of Rutbah for hidden arms caches, March 12-16, 2009.
“Sweeps like this give us a good opportunity to find any enemy weapons, and it lets insurgents know that we’re watching and we’re going to make it hard for them to operate effectively,” said Capt. Marcus Rossi, a company commander with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, RCT-8.
Marines from CEB were joined in the sweep by elements from the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance and 1st Reconnaissance Battalions. Although there were about 70 individuals who participated in the sweep, they were broken up into smaller teams in order to be more effective.
Once a sweep team located a cache of munitions or weaponry, an Iraqi explosive ordnance disposal team either confiscated or destroyed the cache contents in place.
This operation provided Marines more than just the opportunity to find enemy
caches; it also gave them the opportunity to work alongside Iraqi Army personnel.
“I was very impressed with their planning,” said Rossi. “They could have done this operation on their own. They put the work into coordinating the mission and ensuring that everything was prepared.”
Information provided by the Iraqi Army also led to a large cache find during the sweep.
“Their exact intelligence about the cache demonstrates the Iraqi’s ability to utilize their people in order to find and destroy enemy munitions. That find was all a result of good Iraqi sources,” said Rossi.
“Some of these Iraqi soldiers may not have been allies of ours in the past, but when we are able to work together to complete a mission it helps to strengthen relationships between us and the Iraqi’s,” added Rossi. “We want them to always remember working with Marines.”
Iraqi Army Lt. Muntaser Essi, an engineer with the Iraqi Army’s 7th Field Engineering Regiment, also sang the praises of the Marines that were involved in the sweep.
“I’m very happy to get the chance to work with Marines,” said Essi. “The Marines have a lot of experience in cache sweeps, so we really enjoy working with them.”
Other than improving relationships between Iraqi and U.S troops, the cache sweep was also a way for Marines to pass on valuable knowledge.
“Their sweep teams work alongside ours and we give them tips and show them how we do things,” said Sgt Darren Covington, a squad leader with 1st CEB.
“They are definitely getting better,” said Rossi. “You know they’re in charge now, so we want to pass on any knowledge we can to help them increase their effectiveness.”
“Anytime we work with Marines we always get the chance to learn something new,” said Essi. “They have new techniques that we will use when we conduct missions in the future.”
As the last explosion sounded off, Marines and Iraqi soldiers closed the chapter on another successful mission. Not only were dangerous munitions discovered and properly disposed, but Marines were able to pass on valuable knowledge to Iraqi soldiers that will help render their operations more effective in the future.
For more information on the ongoing mission in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, visit www.iimefpublic.usmc.mil/iimeffwd.