FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Whether made of artillery shells or triple-stacked anti-tank mines, insurgent-made improvised explosive devices continue being a leading cause of casualties throughout the country – including innocent civilians.
The members of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, North Carolina-based Marines and Sailors who are conducting counterinsurgency operations in western Iraq’s turbulent Al Anbar province, have themselves suffered four losses at the hands of these terrorist devices.
On the desert battlefield’s frontlines, young men like Lance Cpl. Robert A. Belaire work to ensure that no more of their fellow warriors perish at the hands of a roadside bomb. For hours on end, this Lafayette, La. infantryman and his teammates with the battalion's 2nd Combined Anti-Armor Team, Weapons Company, broil underneath Iraq's raging summer sun observing insurgent activity on a perilous roadway leading into Fallujah.
Since April, one month after arriving here, Weapons Company personnel have pursued an aggressive campaign to curtail insurgents' ability to emplace IEDs. As Iraqi Security Forces and the battalion's infantrymen patrol the city streets and rural surroundings, Marines like Belaire set up observation posts to watch for suspicious activity. Meanwhile, concealed snipers lie in wait to kill terrorists and their hopes of setting an explosive.
Additionally, Marines erect signs along frequently transited routes that warn local residents not to stop there for extended periods of time or set down anything on the side of the road.
Belaire’s 2nd CAAT platoon has stopped several insurgents from laying explosives throughout several months of roadside vigilance. Armed with their wits, weapons, and a small ice chest full of bottled water and sports drinks, these Marines would often sit in one spot for up to 16 hours, sweating out liters worth of water while staring out at an unchanging, barren landscape.
"It gets really boring out here, so we usually just talk to each other about anything and everything," Belaire stated. "We run out of things to talk about after a long day."
As exhausted and bored as they are after conducting hundreds of these types of missions, the Marines continue realizing the vital role they play in helping secure Iraq.
"When we first got here, there were IEDs being placed all the time," Belaire explained. "Now, we see hardly any. It makes what we do all worth it in the end."