RAMADI, Iraq -- Improvised explosive devices are a continual threat to the Marines operating on the streets of Ramadi.
Marines from the California-based 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company in direct support of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment are the focal point of the routinely executed Operation Tarheels. The operation’s sole purpose is to locate and render safe IEDs on roads used regularly by coalition forces.
“We keep the roads open for coalition forces so that they can travel safely and do more patrols,” said Staff Sgt. Jacob W. H. Smith, a 28-year-old EOD team leader from Martin, S.D.
EOD diffuses IEDs and other explosives and is in charge of investigating any IED that has detonated against coalition forces in the battalion’s area of operations.
Capt. Reginald J. McClam, assistant operations officer, 3rd Bn., 8th Marines, believes EOD is a crucial asset.
“These guys ensure our routes are clear of IEDs to the best of their ability,” said McClam, 32, of Garner, N.C. “We wouldn’t be able to do the mission without them.”
Sgt. David C. Moran, an EOD technician supporting the battalion, knows his job is very dangerous but vital in today’s fight against the insurgency.
“We are always collecting weapons caches and disposing of IEDs,” said Moran, 23, from Royal Oak, Mich. “Right now we are one of the most important assets in the Marine Corps just based on how common IEDs have become.
“IEDs have become more popular with the insurgents compared to the early days of the Iraq conflict. We are here to minimize that threat,” added Moran.
When EOD Marines leave the wire they don’t just take an average tool box. These Marines are fully equipped with the latest technology the Corps has to offer. They have an arsenal of explosives, robots, and the Joint EOD rapid response vehicle nicknamed the Cougar.
Weighing more than five times the weight of a regular humvee, this unique four-by-four packs enough metal to protect personnel from high explosive ballistics, said Smith.
“They are made to withstand one hell of a blast,” said Moran, of the vehicle introduced to the Marine Corps in 2004. “They are a huge asset for us. I think everyone should have one of these.”
Smith, now on his fourth deployment to Iraq, remembers traveling in humvees with no doors when he was here in 2003. ”It was just me and my Gunny riding around Baghdad with barely any protection,” he added.
Since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the demand for EOD technicians has dramatically increased. There is only an average of 300 EOD technicians Marine Corps wide.
However few, these Marines are motivated about their mission here.
“We are always busy, it just makes our time go by faster,” said Moran. “We are not just clearing IEDs for coalition forces; we are making the streets safe for the children going to school and ensuring the Iraqi people can carry on with their everyday lives.”
During each patrol, the Marines try to collect every piece of ordnance they find outside the wire. At the end of the day they “gut” out the explosives rendering them safe and place them in a display at Hurricane Point for other Marines to see.
EOD is calling their collection the “IED Garden.” On display is a multitude of insurgent booby traps including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, mortars and other types of harmful devices.
“It’s a training tool,” said Moran. “We set up the IEDs the way we found them. This is so Marines can look at how they were placed and have an idea of what to look for.”
Moran, formerly an electrician, said one of the biggest misconceptions about EOD Marines is that they are just the guys that blow “stuff” up.
“Our job is to prevent detonation, we take care of everything from 9 mm rounds to nuclear weapons,” said Moran, “Basically anything that goes bang.”
Since the beginning of the battalion’s deployment in March, EOD has contributed to over 40 successful Operation Tarheels. They have disposed of over 100 IEDs. They are also responsible for clearing up many of the weapons caches and other insurgent weapons found in 3rd Bn., 8th Marines’ area of operations.