ANGLICO Marines help clear Basra neighborhood

7 May 2008 | Cpl. Daniel Angel

Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, fire control team 6, bring a lot to the fight here.

Among other things, they provide air-strike and fire-support capabilities to their Iraqi Army counterparts supporting 3rd Battalion, Quick Reaction Force 1,1st Iraqi Army Quick Reaction Force.

"We’re there mainly to provide air support if needed, but we also provide medevacs, we can use the aircraft for route reconnaissance if needed," said Sgt. Robert Lower, FCT 6 team chief . "We are basically the liaison between the air and ground."

Marines with FCT-6 began their tour in Hawas, in northeastern al-Anbar province, but came to Basra in support of QRF-1, along with military transition team Marines, when fighting erupted in the city in late March.

The drive down with QRF 1 from Hawas to Basra was slow due to the large number of vehicles, the frequent stops and the slow speeds convoys travel, taking three days of 15-17 hours of travel per day.

One of Lower’s most memorable days in the Marine Corps was April 1, the day after they arrived in Basra during a mission with the Iraqi Police and IA.

"We were driving through the city to go set up IP checkpoints," he said. "We started receiving small arms fire and had two [rocket propelled grenades] shot at us."

They spent the night sleeping in the team’s mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle in the city and received mortar fire throughout the night, said Lower.

Lower’s team hasn’t had to call in air support in Basra, but other ANGLICO units called in air strikes in early April against criminal elements of the Jaysh ar-Mahdi militia and other outlaws.

"I spotted a mortar emplacement and our other FCT spotted another," said Lower.

After the other unit called for fire on the emplacement, Coalition forces destroyed the house.

"All his neighbors knew he had mortars and explosives in his house and they thought he had blown himself up, they didn’t know it was us," said Lower.

The LaPorte, Ind., native joined the Marine Corps in August 2000 shortly after graduating high school as an avionics technician. After a year-long military occupational specialty school in Pensacola, Fla., he was stationed at Camp Pendleton with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron-169 working on Huey and Cobra helicopters, where he deployed twice in Operations Iraqi Freedom I and II.

In 2005, Lower went to Quantico, Va., where he was stationed with HMX-1, the president’s helicopter squadron.

"Working with HMX-1 was awesome," said Lower. "We stayed in nice hotels and had nice rental cars when we traveled with the president. But we traveled a lot, sometimes for a week at a time."

Two years later, he changed his MOS to be a forward observer and was stationed with 1st ANGLICO in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

"It was a little bit of a culture shock when I first came to ANGLICO because I came from the wing side," said Lower. "There’s a lot more camaraderie on the ground side."

"We formed shortly before pre-deployment training with the Army and have become pretty close. We live together and work together. When we came down here [to Basra], we were pretty much living together out of the MRAP."

This deployment, which began in March, is Lower’s third to Iraq, and has been very different from his previous tours.

"The biggest difference between my first deployment in OIF I and this deployment is that now we are working with some of the Iraqi Army soldiers that we were fighting in OIF I," said Lower.

Along with the MiTTs, the FCT helps the Iraqi soldiers build on their operational capabilities, said Lower. Having ANGLICO alongside them helps provide the confidence to conduct operations on their own.

"Now, we are focused on making them do the job instead of us doing it for them," he said. "If an area needs to be cleared, we’re going to let them do it. We go along with them to help in case things go bad."

When his ANGLICO team came to Iraq, the Iraqis kept to themselves and the Marines kept to themselves without much social interaction, said Lower. But things have started to change.

"At first, we kept our space with the Iraqis and they kept theirs," he said. "Iraqis are more focused on personal relationships. They’re starting to open their arms to us more. The IAs have been teaching us the language and culture."

"My favorite part of being in ANGLICO is working in small teams and working with different units," said Lower. "It makes me feel like I’m contributing more to the war … working with units like the MiTTs and the IA."