AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Lance Cpl. Tony Leal runs across a street here to a residence he and his Marines need to search. He drops to one knee, places his M-16A4 service rifle to his shoulder and provides security while his comrades quickly file in to dwelling’s entrance.
“We hard-target ourselves,” the rifleman and team leader with 3rd Squad, 4th Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, said from inside the house referring to way his team entered the building. “Snipers can’t get a good aim on us.”
When it comes to operating on Iraq’s urban battlefield, Leal knows the procedures well. This is deployment number two in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom for the 24-year-old from Staford, Texas, in as many years.
He engaged insurgents in firefights countless times when his infantry battalion swept through Fallujah last year. And this go round, he and his comrades have sustained their share of attacks from insurgents using improvised explosive devices.
“Yeah, I’ve been in gun fights, and we’ve been blown up,” he said. “That’s just part of it.”
Leal said firefights are the lesser of the two evils, which he’d prefer to deal with though enduring neither would be best.
“You can see and go after who’s shooting at you most of the time,” he said. “This time here they’re using IEDs and it’s hard to tell who’s doing it.”
Leal explained insurgents bury IEDs along roads military convoys travel then detonate them with cellular phones and other handheld electronic devices from afar.
This OIF veteran’s path to fighting insurgents here didn’t begin right after graduating from Staford High school in 1999, though. The times were somewhat peaceful then, and Leal desired a higher education.
“I’ve always wanted to be a cop,” he said.
Leal attended college at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. While there, he witnessed the terrorists’ attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After graduating in 2003 with an Associates degree in Criminal Justice, Leal sought the neatest Marine recruiter.
“I saw the war going on, and I didn’t want to miss out on my chance to fight,” said Leal. “I chose the infantry so I could see the front lines.”
In late 2003, Leal attended Marine Corps Recruit Training at the depot in San Diego and earned the title “Marine.” He then learned how to be an infantryman at the School of Infantry West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Upon completion of his infantry training he received orders to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and deployed to Iraq in 2004 to battle insurgents in Fallujah.
Though he enjoys being a Marine and serving his country, his back-to-back combat deployments have taken him away from his wife, Summer.
“In the two years I’ve been in the Marines,” he said. “I’ve been away from my wife for 14 months.”
Leal plans on leaving the Corps in two years with an honorable discharge. Becoming a cop will have to wait, he said.
“The fighting has made me want a simpler life,” he said. “I want to start a family and go back to school to get my (Bachelors of Arts) in history. I’d like to teach history in high school.”