Marines strike secret Ba'ath Party hideout

14 Jul 2003 | Army Sgt. Mike Sweet

Applying increased pressure to those loyal to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Marines from the First Marine Division raided a secret Ba'ath Party hideout July 14, which intelligence sources said was being used to plan future attacks against coalition forces.

Members from 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based out of 29 Palms, Calif., conducted the nighttime raid in which they detained more than six suspected Ba'ath Party members.

In the raid, the Marines also recovered a small cache of weapons and Ba'ath Party documents.

The raid was the second in less than a week for the men of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, said Cpl. Tony J. Perolio, a company sniper from St. Louis, Mo. 

"The word is out," said Lt. Col. Christopher C. Conlin, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines. "We are going to press them and keep pressing them so they will think twice before hitting coalition forces."

Using a shock and awe technique of their own, the Marines hit the hideout before the terrorist knew they were in the house.  As teams of Marines from Weapons Co. stormed into town, Marine helicopters raced in overhead, providing leaders on the ground with a birds-eye view of the operation, and were ready to provide deadly and accurate fire from above if the Devil Dogs on the ground called for it.

"The raid was in a very confusing urban setting," said Capt. Taylor L. Grimes, a native of Chapin, S.C. and commander for Weapons Company. "It is not a setting that we usually operate in."

Because the raid was conducted in a small town that the Marines had not operated in before, they prepared for it by recreating the village on a terrain map using rocks for houses and powdered Gatorade mix to outline the roads.  This gave the Marines a chance to see the village before they went there.

"We did a lot of rehearsals and used terrain models to get us ready," Grimes said. "It builds situational awareness so each Marine know what the other is doing."

Although Grimes planned and executed the raid, Conlin, who is an anti-terrorism expert, and Sgt. Maj. Henry E. Bergeron, battalion sergeant major, could not be kept away from the fight.  

"The battalion commander and the sergeant major are always up front," said Cpl. Gabriel S. Lemonie, from Baton Rogue, La., and a sniper with Weapons Company.  "On the way up (the unit's advance on Baghdad), (Bergeron) was clearing out his own rooms."  

If taking men into harm's way isn't challenging enough, having the boss around normally makes most people nervous - except for these Marines.

"That's what Marines do, as a leader we fight from the front," Grimes said.   

The raiding party used the tight spaces and the cover of night to their advantage.  In the confusion of the raid, some of the suspected terrorists ran right into a group of Marines waiting for them at the end of the street.

The suspects were quickly searched and whisked away to an undisclosed holding site.  According to Army Spc. Rachel Roe, a legal advisor for the battalion, the location is kept secret not only for the Marines' protection but also for the protection of the detainees.

"We get a lot of death threats against them," said Roe, who is assigned to the 432nd Civil Affairs Battalion based in Green Bay, Wis.  "And there are a few people who are not so happy that we have them."

No troops were injured in the raid in this small village, which is about three hours south of Baghdad. Marines made every attempt to minimize casualties, including sending in a specialized Army Reserve unit with loud speakers to warn residents to stay indoors.

The hideout was located in between a tight cluster of homes.  Not only did the Marines have to be on guard for Ba'ath security forces hiding on the rooftops, but also focusing on protecting innocent lives.

"It is unfortunate that the Ba'ath Party puts innocent people in danger by hiding behind them," Conlin said.

Even though the raid was successful, the Marines from the "First Team," as they refer to themselves, are not resting on their accomplishments.  With one group of suspected Ba'ath Party members arrested, they know there are more out in the province of An Najaf that is trying to stir up trouble in this peaceful community.

"We want them to be worried," Conlin said.  "But remember, desperate people do desperate things.  We have got to keep our guard up out there."