AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Wearing his Kevlar low over his eyes while moving with his rifle at the ready, he quickly and silently entered the room, checking every corner in tandem with his partner before yelling “Clear!” to the rest of the squad. Again and again, the Marines moved quickly and quietly through the shopping district, searching, clearing and securing the area looking for insurgents and their weapons hidden in floorboards, false walls and behind stacks of boxes.
Operation Skinner was long and tiring, but for Pfc. Kelsey Smith, a rifleman with 4th Platoon, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, it was well worth the effort. Being able to find a cache of materials used in making improvised explosive devices means fewer Marines are hurt.
“We searched all through the Souq (a district here) and found a decent amount of weapons and intelligence material,” said the 20-year-old from Nevada, Miss. “We wanted to make the insurgents feel uncomfortable moving their weapons through that area, and I think we did that. The mission went really well, and we showed the insurgents that no part of the city is safe.”
The Souq is the traditional shopping district of the city, with open-air shops lining small alleyways and more modern looking stores decorating the main streets. With all its storefronts and back alleys, the Souq was a difficult area to search. However, with the improvements of the Iraqi soldiers accompanying the Marines on almost every mission, the battalion can now use their experience and knowledge of the culture to their advantage. The Iraqi soldiers are able to point out likely hiding places and out-of-place materials.
“The city is really coming along, the Iraqi Police are showing up soon to begin policing the area, the Iraqi Army soldiers are advancing and we are getting a lot of good information from their work here,” he said. “The IA knows what is normal and what is wrong in these stores and homes, and we find a lot of weapons that way.”
Operation Skinner was a two-day, battalion-sized operation and the last major sweep before the elections in mid-December. By going at night and using the advantages the Marines have during hours of darkness, Smith and his fellow Marines were able to spend longer on the ground than usual – resulting in a large cache find and a more thorough search.
“The word is getting out that we will find anything that is hidden in the city,” said Smith. “We’ve been here for a few months now and we are getting better at finding hidden weapons. Last year in Al Qaim, these searches were a lot different. There was more open desert and lot of small towns to go through. Here, we are responsible for a small section of a bigger city.”
Coming back to Iraq after a deployment to the western Iraqi border last year was something that Smith looked forward to, even if it meant another seven months away from the United States.
“Actually, I am excited to be here,” he said. “I don’t mind coming out here and doing this stuff, doing my part. It’s an experience that not many people will ever get, being able to run the streets of Ar Ramadi and make a difference. The people here respect us for what we are doing for them and I wouldn’t want to be left behind.”