SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- Since mid-March, Lance Cpl. Howard Aycock continues to accomplish what he set out to do 15 months ago. “I went to college right after high school, and I had a job working sales right after that,” the 26-year-old Sarasota, Fla., native stated. “I didn’t feel satisfied knowing that there were guys over here fighting, so I wanted to come over and help out myself.” And that’s exactly what this 2002 Florida State University graduate did after attending Marine Corps recruit training in April 2004 and subsequent infantry schooling. Currently, Aycock is employed as a machine gunner with Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, a unit conducting security and stability operations in Western Iraq’s Al Anbar province. Company A’s latest endeavor to quell the insurgency, Operation Shadyville, took place June 29. During this mission, Aycock and his fellow infantrymen provided security for Iraqi soldiers as they swept through a village outside Fallujah, deemed by American forces as ‘Shadyville.’ “Today, we’re sweeping though this village because we’ve found some IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and insurgent activity nearby before,” explained Aycock, a member of 2nd Platoon, Company A. Moving under the cover of pre-dawn darkness, infantrymen and the Iraqi soldiers left their base of operations in Saqlawiyah, another township outside Fallujah. After an hour-long march, the Marines advanced on ‘Shadyville,’ taking positions throughout the streets and behind the houses to provide security. As helicopters circled overhead, the Iraqi soldiers began knocking on each resident’s doors. They would gather census data on the citizens, such as who lived in each home and if they possessed any weapons. Additionally, the soldiers searched the premises for hidden weapons, explosives, and anti-Coalition/Iraqi forces propaganda. Meanwhile, Marine combat engineers swept through the city streets and fields outside homes using their metal detectors to probe for buried weapons caches and explosives. Throughout the operation, Marines from the battalion’s Combined Anti-Armor Teams maintained a defensive perimeter around the village, effectively preventing anyone from entering or exiting ‘Shadyville’ while the searches took place. “We hadn’t had any real contact with the folks here before,” stated Capt. Daniel Zappa, Company A’s commander. “We’ve had a lot of IED activity on roads near here, so we wanted to get a feel for who lived here.” “We also used this mission to find out what civil affairs type of services the people here needed,” Zappa continued, referring to how the Marines use these operations to find out how they might help restore Iraqi villages’ infrastructure. Throughout the approximately 12-hour mission, Aycock, fellow Marines and the ISF cleared 244 houses. The troops detained several insurgent supporters, along with confiscating 50 AK-47 assault rifles and unearthing two IEDs. Although ‘Shadyville’ residents may legally possess rifles for home self-defense, military forces confiscate these weapons and hand them a receipt of ownership. The weapons are then taken to Saqlawiyah’s city council, where citizens may claim them after presenting their receipt and some sort of statement signed by local government authorities stating that they may posses such arms. This is done to allow the local council to register and keep track of what weapons are in which households. Two hundred fourty-four houses and 12 hours later, the mission concluded with the Marines and Iraqi soldiers boarding seven-ton trucks and returning to their base. “The Marines performed very well throughout this operation,” Zappa said. Shadyville, however, is only one mission Aycock and his teammates have performed alongside ISF personnel since their arrival in country. The Marines began their deployment by conducting counter-insurgency operations throughout Fallujah for approximately one month before sprouting new roots in Saqlawiyah in mid-April. Since then, the troops have helped deter the insurgency in and around a town to which many terrorists fled after the battle to retake Fallujah was fought last year. “Mainly, we’ve been doing IED sweeps on the roads, and going through houses and orchards trying to find weapons caches,” Aycock explained. “This is my first deployment, and it’s been a good opportunity for me, as a machine gunner, to work with different parts of my company and learn what the riflemen do, too.” Spending numerous months away from loved ones and in harm’s way, however, entails many hardships and sacrifices on the Marines’ parts. “It’s been a personal challenge for me to be away from home and my family,” Aycock added. “It’s a whole new environment out here, a whole different lifestyle. The military is totally different compared to the lifestyle I was used to.” Nevertheless, great rewards accompany great sacrifices. “It’s been a good learning experience for me to mentally and physically adapt to this new environment,” Aycock said. “Although I’ve given up a lot of personal space and free time since I’ve been in the Marine Corps, I’d recommend it to anyone out there who’s looking for a challenge and to do something for their country.” Aycock added that he will use the experiences he’s learned as a deployed infantryman to possibly pursue a career in law enforcement. “Having been in the Marine Corps has given me a good background for something like that,” he continued. Aycock is building further upon these skills as he and fellow Marines continue combating insurgency to provide the country’s people a better tomorrow.