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23 May 2003 | Sgt. Colin Wyers

While the American military is known for its high-tech aircraft and weaponry, some of the toughest battles in Operation Iraqi Freedom still came down to a Marine and his weapon.

From the first push through towns in southern Iraq, to maintaining security on the many convoys traveling the supply routes north, Marines used a variety of small arms, from the M9 9mm Beretta pistol, to the Mark 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, to carry out the mission. But regardless of which weapon was used, what counted was the Marine and his ability to control his weapon.

Staff Sgt. Jose Tablada III, a team leader with 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, remembers speaking to infantrymen, of the 1st Marine Division on supply route one after Saddam's regime crumbled.

"Some of these guys were out of (the School of Infantry), and had been in sustained combat for a couple of weeks," said Tablada, a native of Kailua, Hawaii.  "These are really the guys that did a great job here."

Tablada's platoon, working with Army Special Forces, was involved in an early raid on Ad Diwaniyah. They worked with freedom fighters, arming them and gaining their support for the coalition-forces led liberation.

"The level of training these Marines have received, and the confidence they had in each other, really helped," said Tablada. "We made it through safe, and I understand the Army now occupies it. It makes you feel pretty good to have been a part of that."

According to Sgt. Zachary Lott, a squad leader with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, the M-16A2 service rifle was invaluable in taking out snipers and Iraqis firing rocket-propelled grenades at them on the road to Baghdad.  Several members of the unit, including Lott, were outfitted with the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight scope, designed to help acquire targets at a distance even under low-light conditions.

"The ACOG high-powered scope was issued to our designated marksmen," said Lott, from Salt Lake City, Utah.  "I used it a couple of times and took out a couple of 'good targets'."

Lott also had praise for indirect fire weapons, which watched over them like a guardian angel.

"I could count at least four times that we were hammered from enemy artillery, and [our] artillery saved us," he said.

Sometimes, even without a shot fired, a Marine and his rifle can make an impact on the battlefield.

"We did reconnaissance and surveillance of high value targets, Ba'ath party targets, police stations," said Tablada.  "We'd go in, raid it, get documents and people, and turn over the prisoners of war to Task Force Tarawa.  When doing raids or interdictions, we'd pull up on them hard, and they weren't interested in fighting."