FALLUJAH, Iraq -- “We’re moving.”
With those two words, leathernecks from the Personal Security Detachment, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, execute an almost choreographed routine. Strapping down, tightening down and buckling in has become a pattern for the PSD Marines, working under the notion that repetition builds muscle memory, ensuring that no protective equipment is left behind nor gear unsecured. Heavy metal blares from tiny speakers hooked up to a portable music player.
“Welcome to the fun truck,” said a smiling Cpl. William P. Stellwagen, a 21-year-old Seaford, N.Y. native and member of the PSD.
The “fun truck” is an up-armored High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, that is the workhorse of the PSD as it executes its mission of providing an armed escort for the battalion commander, Lt. Col. William F. Mullen, III, and his staff.
During the course of a standard week, the detachment provides transport for the battalion commander and his staff to meetings with both coalition and local Iraqi leadership, as well as tours of the entire region that falls under his battalion’s authority.
The Marines were jovial as they cracked jokes and talked amongst each other before arriving near the main gate, where they all dismounted their vehicles to load their weapons. The sounds of 5.56 millimeter and .50 caliber rounds entering the chambers of their respective weapons sent a deafening realization of the situation. At this point the mentality of the Marines became strictly business.
“Our mission is providing the safe and successful travel for the battalion commander to our unit’s battle spaces,” said Staff Sgt. Jeffery S. Benkie, the PSD platoon commander.
“Many people think PSD just goes from point A to B. We handle every convoy as a combat patrol,” Benkie, 34, of Rio Vista, Calif., said. “If we are engaged, we will return fire. We won’t run from a fight.”
With more than 40 lbs. of gear attached to their flak jackets, including smoke and fragmentation grenades, as well as magazines full of ammunition, they remain ready for anything.
Their preparation paid off April 18. The detachment was driving down a road they have traveled numerous times before when they encountered one of the most effective enemy weapons in Iraq: the improvised explosive device, or IED.
“We were blown the hell up,” Benkie said candidly. “Apparently if we were closer to the actual IED, we would not have walked away as well as we did.”
An IED detonated directly on the side of one of the Humvees, sending an echo bouncing off the quiet deserted streets of Fallujah. Somewhere between 80 to 100 meters behind the downed Humvee, the following vehicle in the convoy was hit with fragmentation, said Sgt. Michael J. Fejka, a vehicle commander for one of the Humvees.
Once the smoke cleared, Benkie instantly pulled his gunner, Pfc. John L. Chance, 22, down from the gun turret. Chance, of Cold Spring, Minn., and other turret gunners have a special set of ballistic protection designed to shield them from enemy fire and explosions. In this attack, it may have saved his limb.
“His arm was hit by some shrapnel, but he’s doing okay now,” Benkie said. “If it wasn’t for his arm protection, who knows what could have happened.”
The PSD Marines remained cool under fire, overtaken by a shockwave of expedient reaction. The remaining vehicles coordinated a makeshift blockade around the downed Humvee to provide both first aid and continuous support in the case they received small arms fire.
They rushed Chance to the Fallujah Surgical Center at Camp Fallujah where the worried Marines received word Chance was going to make a full recovery. Upon receiving the news, the Marines of 2/6 PSD could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“Considering it was our first hit, there was a lot of speculation on how we would react,” said Fejka, a 31-year-old Perkinston, Miss., native. “In the end there was no hesitation. Our training truly paid off. Everyone performed their jobs flawlessly.”
The “rag-tag team” of PSD is made up of Marines that originally held very different jobs before training for this deployment began. Armorers, field radio operators, Navy corpsmen, motor transportation mechanics, supply warehousemen, mortarmen, machine gunners and nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialists fill out the ranks of the detachment.
“These Marines are good at what they do,” Behnkie admitted. “We have made ourselves fully functioning because everyone contributes to the success of our team. Our accomplishments don’t rest on one single Marine, but the entire group.”