KARBALA, Iraq -- Karbala is considered to be one of the safest cities in Iraq, yet there are still those who do not want to see coalition forces bring Iraq into a peaceful and prosperous future.
On the night of July 13, the Marines of 2nd Platoon, K Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines joined other elements of the battalion in a group of patrols aimed at finding stockpiles of weapons and Ba'ath Party loyalists that present a continued threat to peace in the city.
"I think it's a good idea, because the people need protection as well as we do," said Lance Cpl. Darren Pickard, a rifleman from Merced, Calif. "They're allowed to have one rifle or one pistol, but we're here to make sure they don't have a build-up of weapons."
The patrol took place after sunset. The Marines dismounted their vehicles in their assigned sector, and as elements of 350th Psychological Operations Company, based in Cleveland, Ohio, broadcast a message to residents explaining what the Marines where doing in the neighborhood, the platoon employed translators to inquire of residents about weapons and Ba'ath loyalists.
When the Marines received information from separate people in different locations indicating the presence of weapons or illegal activities, they followed up on them.
The searches were fairly unremarkable in most cases. Marines walked through the residences and looking for evidence of weapons, but were unsuccessful. They asked owners simple questions in a non-threatening manner, looking for inconsistent answers.
In one case, the owner of a house first told the Marines he had no weapons, then admitted he had the one rifle permitted for personal protection. Asked to show this weapon, he led the Marines around his house, but could not produce the weapon. In that house, however, the Marines found three loaded AK-47 magazines lying out in the open.
The eldest woman of the house claimed she had found the magazines in the street after the war and brought them into the house, but failed the reason they were lying out in the open.
The presence of the magazines could mean something or nothing, said Lance Cpl. Steven Vincent Johnson, a team leader with 2nd Platoon.
"There hasn't been a house that we've searched that didn't have something like an AK buttstock or magazine," he said.
"We heard that sometimes people have grudges with neighbors, and they know that if they say certain things, we'll come in there," Johnson said. "It might have been something, there's the possibility that they were telling the truth, but it's happened before where we've gone into somebody's house and there's nothing, it's just somebody with a grudge."
Even though no houses 2nd Platoon searched turned up weapon stockpiles, past searches have, and the Marines are mindful of their safety when entering the houses and moving around tight corners as they navigate from floor to floor.
"You just have confidence in the man behind you, some people say that they're not scared, but you really don't have time," Johnson said. "You're just concentrating on looking everywhere at the same time. Your training kicks in, and you know that you've got the Marine behind you that's always watching your back."
Aside from the primary mission, the patrols are also designed to have a positive public relations effect.
"We just mingle with the people," said Pickard. "They know we're out there to help them out, and to protect ourselves too."
In addition, the Arabic broadcast by 312th and the Super Cobra helicopters flying overhead created the desired effect.
"In terms of the amount of hardware captured, the patrols were not particularly successful, but in terms of the reaction of the public, I would say they were very successful," said Capt. George C. Schreffler, 31, from Harrisburg, Pa., the battalion operations officer.