Reserve Weapons Co. on the Prowl in Iraq

23 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi

The stench of rotten eggs doused with three-month old milk burning in a dump was the scent suffocating the Marines with the Combined Anti-Armor Team during a patrol outside of Camp Taqaddum, Iraq, April 23.

The reserve Marine CAAT element from Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, originally based out of Springfield, Mo., was on a standard mission of conducting security patrols on the outside perimeter of the base.

They are the force protection for the personnel and assets of the camp, charged with preventing insurgents from entering or attacking the 1st Force Service Support Group's headquarters in Iraq.

The late afternoon sky was the backdrop for Robin 1, a Humvee with the CAAT element, as she left the camp's perimeter and rolled across the vast desert floor.

"This is Robin 1," proudly stated Lance Cpl. Jeffrey W. Herman, a missile gunner with the CAAT, and a Broken Arrow, Okla., native, looking at his vehicle. "She's named after Magnum, P.I.'s Ferrari," referring to an early '80s television show.

The vehicle had all the trimmings, including makeshift personalized license plates: the front one displayed the horse symbol of Ferrari; the rear read "Robin 1" in large black letters.

This was not Robin's maiden voyage into the Iraqi landscape. She has seen and survived combat.

"Just about two weeks ago, (on April 10)," said Sgt. Chad Sharp, Robin's vehicle commander, a Yukon, Okla., native. "We got into a two-hour battle with insurgents."

Sharp, who plans on completing a criminal justice degree at Rose State College in Midwest City, Okla., after his deactivation, said the insurgents set up an ambush. However, the damage was not inflicted on the CAAT - it was redirected toward the enemy.

He said the team cleared out of the kill zone, and then immediately began laying havoc onto the enemy forces with heavy-machine gunfire. AH-1W Super Cobra gunship helicopters joined in to add the finishing touches.

"Nobody froze up at all out there," explained Sharp, who was a Marine Corps Honor Guard member in Washington, D.C., while on active duty. "There was no spazzing or anything like that. We simply got the job done."

The day after the attack, Robin and the team members searched the battle area thoroughly, Sharp said. They found caches of rocket-propelled grenades, small arms, grenades and mortar rounds.

Driving through the soft desert floor, Robin made her way smoothly over the hilly landscape. They stopped and searched old fighting holes, looking for weapons caches. 

"I never know what to expect," said Herman, who graduated from Broken Arrow Senior High in 2000. "It's a different experience every time we leave the wire."

Robin hits a large rut; the Marine's heads bang on the ceiling. Lance Cpl. Casey Jardot, a gunner and Bartlesville, Okla., native, jokingly asked the driver, "Hey, you did pass drivers' ed., didn't you?"

Heading toward the edge of a cliff, the vehicles emerged from the desert overlooking the fertile valley of the Euphrates River. The desert quickly transformed into water, farmland and life.

After examining the area from a distance, the team trekked toward a spot where they set up vehicle checkpoint.

Dismounting the Humvees, darkness fell on the road.  They blocked both lanes of traffic for a random check, and commenced looking for any incriminating evidence in the vehicles.

"We have to make sure we pick up on all the details - specifically while searching vehicles during the night," said Herman. "How many people are in there? Is anyone hiding? Are there weapons?"

The Marines left the checkpoint after searching approximately a dozen cars.

Back in the desert, Robin drove in blackout conditions through the rugged terrain and a blanket of dust hindering the Marines' sight. The Marines used night vision goggles to compensate. Herman scanned through his thermal imagery system, which spots heat signatures day or night, for enemy forces.

They returned home early the following morning and promptly put Robin to bed before getting some sleep for themselves.

"I wanted to get deployed, and I wanted to see combat," said Herman. "After being in combat, I've realized it's not as glamorous as most people or movies say. The best part for me is when I'm simply kicking back with everyone."