Marines patrol night, Iraqis sleep safe

12 Jun 2003 | Army Spc. Benjamin Kibbey

On the dimly lit streets of northern Karbala, there is little to give the people a sense of safety, except I Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, which is driving back fear by driving back crime.

The Marines of 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, led by Cpl. Bradley Newbery, from Concord, N.H., patrolled their assigned sector in northern Karbala June 12. The eight-man squad departed their company compound in trucks shortly after 9 p.m., ready for just another routine patrol.

Before long, they came across a group of Iraqis selling stolen gasoline on a street corner.

The gasoline is siphoned illegally from a pipeline near town, said Newbery.  The thieves then sell the stolen gas at exorbitant fees, thereby taking advantage of the current fuel shortage and their fellow Iraqis.

The squad descended on the black-market vendors, and once the men had been instructed to lie on the ground, searched their vehicle for firearms. Finding no weapons, they began stopping passing motorists and giving away the fuel.

"This is where we sort of play Robin Hood," said Newbery.

This keeps the fuel thieves from simply going to a new location to sell the gasoline, he said.

Once the fuel had all been given away, the patrol sent the men on their way with a warning, and set out into the night on foot.

A few streets away, the squad established a vehicle checkpoint in order to search for illegal weapons.

The Marines stopped random vehicles at the intersection, had the occupants get out, and conducted a quick sweep of the interiors and trunks with flashlights.

"We're slowly but surely ending the weapons problem they've had in Karbala," Newbery said. "When you get them out and search them and chase them down when they drive away, that's when we find the weapons."

As the Marines began to search a vehicle, one of the passengers tried to escape, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Havisarraga, from Twin Falls, Idaho, the squad's corpsman.

"When we got them out and put them against the car, he tried to throw an elbow on me, and then he tried to get away from us," Havisarraga said.  "We had to take him to the ground and search him."

Upon searching the vehicle, the squad members found a loaded AK-47 with a round in the chamber.

"When they have a weapon with a round in the chamber, that says something about intent," Newbery said.

After the weapon was secured, the three men were put back in their vehicle and sent on their way. After checking vehicles for about an hour, the squad continued on their patrol of the sector, looking for signs of looting or people with weapons.

"That area usually has a lot of thieves running around," Newbery said.

The very presence of the Marines in the city at night helps to keep down crime, Newbery said.

"Our overall mission is to stabilize the town," said Lance Cpl. Brian Mackail, from New Milford, Conn., who provides indirect fire for the patrol with an M-203 grenade launcher.  "It's stabilized some already just from our presence."

Around 11 p.m., the squad began taking-up positions on top of a large, empty building. As they chose good positions for observing the area, two loud explosions punctured the quiet night.

The squad members sprang from their positions and bolted down several flights of stairs to the street.  Maintaining their running pace, they headed in the direction of the explosions several miles away.

As they drew near, an Iraqi man approached from the other direction and beckoned for them to follow him.  Still running, they came within 300 meters of a bombed-out building.  The man pointed at it, indicating this was where the explosions had come from.

The compound was a former headquarters of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen paramilitary force, said Newbery, and was now home to several Iraqi families.

Once inside the compound, a crowd of Iraqi men and children surrounded the squad and tried to tell squad members what had happened through gestures and broken English.

After much gesturing back and forth, it was determined that five unknown men had pulled up in a pickup truck and fired two rocket propelled grenades and several rifle rounds at the building.  One RPG round had hit the wall, leaving a volleyball-sized hole, and the other had struck the roof of the building.

The squad remained at the compound, watching the road for another possible attack, and setting up a checkpoint on the road to search for weapons, particularly those used in the attack.

At 1 a.m., the squad was finally picked up by the trucks that had dropped them off four hours before, and returned to the company compound.

The patrol was a success by the squad's estimate, as many have been.

"We got a weapon off the street," Havisarraga said, "and how quickly we got to the building shot by the RPG's shows the people how fast the Marines and Sailors can respond to a situation like that."

"I think we're doing a great job out there, really accomplishing our mission," Frias said.  "We're keeping the weapons off the street and keeping the streets safe."

The Marines feel that what they are doing in the city is both necessary and appreciated.

"I think it's good that were here," said Frias.  "The civilians love us here, and they obviously need us here."

The members of the squad agree that their successes - past and future - are due to each of them giving everything they have.

"Everybody puts everything out there as a whole," said Havisarraga.  "I think that's what makes our squad and our platoon work as well as it does."

"They all give 100 percent," said Newbery.  "They do what I expect them to do, and sometimes they do more.  They're just doing their job out there, and I think they all distinguish themselves.  They all give everything they've got pretty evenly."

In the end, it's the reaction of the majority of the people of Karbala that says the most about the success of the patrols.

"Maybe it will help, maybe it won't," said Newbery, "but the people who gather around and thank us, they're happy we're there and they can sleep at night."