SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- Although hundreds of insurgents were killed during last year’s offensive in Fallujah, those who survived fled the ruined city to blend back into the Iraqi civilian populace living in the surrounding communities.
Nine months later, the ongoing task of searching for these insurgents falls to young men like Marietta, Ga. native Clinton Fort.
Currently a 20-year-old lance corporal, this infantryman assists 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and Iraqi Security Forces in rebuilding the city’s infrastructure and keeping its streets safe.
Since mid-April, Fort’s company and ISF personnel have operated from a makeshift base inside Saqlawiyah, a rural community located outside Fallujah. The infantrymen patrol the village streets and outlying farm communities’ dirt paths, looking for weapons, explosives and criminal activity.
“During our time here, we’ve found quite a few good-sized weapons caches that had things like 155mm artillery rounds, grenades, mortar rounds, and rockets,” explained Fort, a 2003 Osborne High School graduate.
Insurgents throughout Iraq use these munitions to build roadside and car bombs, several of which have injured Fort’s fellow Company A Marines.
“We’ve been doing raid after raid, patrol after patrol throughout the area,” Fort said, explaining how his unit works to counter this threat.
His company’s latest effort to combat the insurgency took place July 21; Operation Hard Knock. During this mission, Company A and Iraqi troops searched residences and gathered census information on the citizens living within rural northern Saqlawiyah’s Al Zakarit district.
While the infantrymen searched a total of 142 houses, other battalion personnel blocked off the sector. Troops asked citizens to remain inside their homes, thereby collecting accurate information on the area’s population, as well as barring anyone from sneaking contraband out.
Battalion personnel have conducted previous Operation Hard Knocks throughout Fallujah during the past few months netting bomb-making materials, assault rifles, and suspected insurgent supporters.
“My role during this Hard Knock was to keep an eye on the locals while we searched their homes, and to carry any weapons we might’ve found inside my pack,” Fort stated.
Many Iraqi residents possess weapons, and Saqlawiyah’s people are no exception. Citizens may legally own an AK-47 assault rifle and one magazine of ammunition for home and self-defense. However, Fort and his fellow Marines would annotate which home had what weapons as a means of registering these arms.
By the end of the seven-hour mission, Coalition and Iraqi forces had detained one resident suspected of emplacing roadside bombs.
“Even if we don’t find much, these missions let insurgents know that we’re still around,” Fort said.
Terrorists operating in the area should already be well aware of their presence. Fort’s company, scout snipers and other units keep a close watch on routes leading into Saqlawiyah ever since one of their fellow corpsman was killed by a roadside bomb while riding in a convoy in April. Troops watch these roads day and night, acting as guardian angels.
Already, battalion personnel have killed several insurgents emplacing roadside bombs along one main road leading from Fallujah into Saqlawiyah.
Signs also now warn citizens not to stop along certain areas, as terrorists may have laid explosives there.
For their part, Fort and his fellow Marines continue patrolling the village streets and battling the unyielding insurgency, yearning only for a safe trip back home and a joyous reunion with friends and family.
“I see life differently now; I value what I have more,” Fort stated. “I’m definitely going to come home to see my family a lot more than I used to.”