CAMP AL QA’IM, Iraq -- Picture this scenario: A Marine rifle squad advances on a walled compound in western Iraq. When the point man reaches the gate, automatic weapons fire from inside riddles the wall and metal gate, missing the Marine by mere inches.
Insurgents sit inside the compound, fortified in doors and windows. How do you root them out and allow the Marines to sweep through the compound and its structures without suffering casualties?
Call on Lance Cpl.’s Steven L. Phillips of Waynesberg, Pa., and Paul J. Kolkhorst of Albany, N.Y., both antitank assault men with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
“For the most part, we breech and assault targets that would be fatal for [riflemen] to attack,” said 27-year-old Phillips, who worked as a packaging design engineer before enlisting in the Marine Corps. “We have the resources to take targets out without going in bodily.”
The resource Phillips talks about is the Mk-152 Shoulder-Mounted Antitank Weapon, which is essentially a rocket launcher. In the place of sending flesh-and-blood infantrymen into a potential nightmare of bullets, a rocket can be used to eliminate targets inside a structure.
“If [the riflemen] need a quick opening into a building, or if they need it destroyed and it’s an area a tank can’t fire into, they call us,” said 19-year-old Kolkhorst, 2004 graduate of Shaker High School. “We can blow doors, locks, ammunition. We carry [demolitions], make holes, take down buildings and stop vehicles.”
Another aspect of the antitank assault men’s mission is the use of demolitions. If a Marine squad cannot make entry through a compound gate due to a tough lock, the assault men are trained to use demolitions to blow through doors and other obstructions.
“We went through the Urban Breech Course at Camp Lejeune and got a demolition training package at the School of Infantry,” said Phillips, who is looking to attend the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to become a pilot after finishing his four-year obligation as a Marine. “We generally get a lot of experience through training.”
“We’re also taught basic mine clearing,” said Kolkhorst. “We’re taught how to use mine detectors and probe for land mines.”
As for the scenario… it wasn’t a scenario per se. It did, in fact, happen and Phillips and Kolkhorst were there to “clean house.”