AR RAMADI, Iraq -- The Marines were up early, bracing themselves against the cold-desert wind off the Euphrates River and waiting for the “all go” from headquarters. The sun was just breaking the horizon and painting the sky a splotchy pink and blue while word was passed that the mission would go off as planned. The first team of Combined Anti-Armor Team White, along with Company L’s 2nd Mobile Platoon exited the heavily fortified gates of Hurricane Point and began their part in Operation Block Party 6.
Soon after the first two units left the base, the rest of the participating units, including Marines from 1st Combat Engineers Battalion, departed and quickly set up on their objective: a neighborhood in central Ar Ramadi near a common improvised explosive device drop point.
The idea behind the cordon and search mission was to conduct a thorough and highly detailed search of an area thought to house either insurgents or their weapons caches, said 1st Lt. Tim Burke, platoon commander of CAAT White, Weapons Company.
“Missions like this allow us to get a very detailed look at a specific area,” he said. “It was a great chance to gain intelligence and now we know who lives in certain houses and neighborhoods. Plus, it was a great chance to interact positively with some of the local population.”
By providing plenty of extra security, Weapons Company and all the attachments can stay on site as long as they need to, increasing their chances of finding something or someone suspicious. Many times, due to the complications that operating in an urban environment entails, search operations are cut short or rushed in order to maintain security for the Marines on the ground.
According to Capt. Tim Powledge, commanding officer of Weapons Company, the idea behind these block parties is to give the mission priority and to be ready if the enemy chooses to bring the fight to the Marines.
“We are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep our Marines safe,” he said. “If the enemy chooses to attack us, it will prove to be a very bad decision on his part. We have plenty of firepower on the ground and in the air and we can get more quickly if the need arises.”
Block Party 6 was the first time that Company L has worked with Weapons Company on a mission this large and proved to be a learning experience for both units. Weapons Company is a mounted unit, operating in tandem with their heavily armed Humvees. Company L, on the other hand, is a “boots on the ground” unit that relies more on maneuverability and speed to counteract the enemy. By maximizing their talents, and learning from each other, both units considered the block party to be a huge success.
“Even though it was our first time working with them, I think it went really, really smooth,” said Gunnery Sgt. Shelby Lasater, CAAT White platoon sergeant. “Our areas of expertise work well together and we compliment each other very well.”
Another factor in the success of Block Party was the addition of the Iraqi Army. One of the primary missions of the battalion is to help train the Iraqi soldiers and get them ready to one day take responsibility for large cities such as Ar Ramadi and eventually the entire country of Iraq.
By including Company L in the mission, Weapons Company easily added a platoon of operationally ready Iraqi soldiers. These soldiers come from Company L’s home base of Snake Pit and regularly train and execute mission with them.
Despite the amount of positive control the Marines held in the area, some factors are out of their control. One of the difficult things about operating in an urban environment such as Ar Ramadi is the amount of people who gather just to see what the Marines are up too. Almost as soon as the Marines began dismounting, local citizens began lining the roads to sneak a peek.
However, the Marines quickly turned this to their advantage and began using the intrusion as an opportunity to positively interact with the population. By handing out informational leaflets to the adults, along with soccer balls and candy to the children, the Marines were able to, in a small way, prove that we are here to help rebuild and repair the capitol city of the Al Anbar Province, said Powledge.
Although the search for weapons and insurgent personnel came up empty, both companies came back from the mission felling they accomplished what they went out to do.
“A mission like today’s is not all about finding insurgents, although we are ready to deal with them if we have to,” said Powledge. “We now have a better understanding of the area of operations and where the enemy is not. Also, working with Company L is awesome. They bring certain talents to the fight and today we laid the foundations for future operations with them.”