Operation Brand Iron leaves mark on remote Iraqi villages

14 Feb 2006 | Cpl. Adam C. Schnell

Without a moon and with temperatures below freezing, more than 80 Marines with Mobile Assault Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, began their three-day operation seeking out terrorist activity in remote villages here Jan. 29-31.

Operation Brand Iron consisted of searching nearly 100 kilometers of shoreline and remote villages surrounding the massive Lake Qadisiyah. They looked for weapons caches and gathered information about the people living in the area.

“We did some area reconnaissance, which is getting a census on the people in the area,” said Sgt. Alexander M. Murray, a Portland, Ore., native and vehicle commander for the company’s 3rd Platoon. “We were also hoping to find some bad guys in the process.”

With security from the lake being provided by the Haditha Dam’s Dam Security Unit, Murray and other Marines with the company searched every village they saw along their way. Metal detector-toting combat engineers helped search areas surrounding the tiny communities of a few tents or buildings spread out over the barren desert landscape.

“The people here live very primitive at best,” commented Murray, a 1990 Wickenburge High School graduate.

As Marines swept through the area, they gathered information about each family and community. Having information on each area can help Marines in future to keep terrorist influence out of these small, vulnerable communities.

“We might find a cache here and there, but the biggest thing is just being out here,” said Lance Cpl. Enrique Mendoza, a Chico, Calif., native and vehicle security member for the company. “It shows them that we are willing to come all the way out here to look for bad guys.”

Much like other recent operations for the company, Marines bared the cold winter temperatures for days, getting whatever heat they could inside their vehicles. At night the Marines either slept inside their vehicles or on the desert floor, using their sleeping bags as cocoons.

“Besides getting a vehicle stuck, keeping warm is one of the biggest battles out here,” commented the 33-year-old vehicle commander.

Being in the remote areas also makes it difficult to receive fuel when traveling more than 500 kilometers during the operation. To make sure the vehicles had enough, two helicopters carrying fuel landed in the desert and refueled the vehicles with enough to finish their mission.

“Being refueled by the helos is a very unique experience,” said Murray. “Especially when they refueled us at night and we saw them come in through our (night vision goggles).”

Before the end of the operation, the Marines conducted a vehicle checkpoint once back on a main road. The Marines searched vehicles and people in hopes of controlling the weapons trafficking and keeping pressure on the insurgents.

“Every weapon, cache or bad guy we find out here means we are just that much closer to making this place safe so we can all go home,” commented Murray.