RAMADI, Iraq -- A sport utility vehicle may get the job done on roads in the United States, but in Ramadi, it takes a company of machine-gun toting Marines in humvees to operate on these mean streets.
Lance Cpl. Jonathan M. Wales is just one of the Marines with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, whose duty it is to patrol the improvised-explosive device-laden roadways of western Ramadi.
“We are the company trained on heavier weapon systems, and we can hit stronger targets. We are also completely mobile,” said Wales, 20, an anti-armor Marine from Pepperell, Mass. “Our advantage is we can quickly move on the enemy.”
The company traverses the western and central portion of Ramadi conducting mounted and dismounted combat patrols. They also set up vehicle check points, search suspected insurgent houses, and screen for engineers as they clear roadside bombs.
Every day, the Marines venture outside the wire, logging in countless hours of driving that could put some New York City taxi drivers to shame. However, instead of worrying about bad tips or rude customers, the Marines are concerned with possible explosions underneath their trucks or being ambushed by insurgents wielding automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
“We do regular combat patrols to disrupt insurgents from planning attacks on fixed positions,” said Lance Cpl. Tyler G. Davis, a 20-year-old infantryman from Middlesboro, Ky.
The roadside bomb threat in Ramadi is all too real for most of the Marines in the company.
Cpl. Timothy D. Roos, vehicle commander for 2nd Platoon, was riding in his humvee when it ran over a burrowed artillery shell and fuel container, which detonated under his truck.
“The explosion shattered all the glass on the vehicle, popped all four doors open and sent shrapnel ripping though the engine,” he said. “It’s scary, and if you’re not scared there is something wrong with you. … but it’s our job, so you got to do it.”
All five Marines in the vehicle walked away from the attack completely unharmed.
Wales also survived being hit by an IED in a separate incident.
“It goes off and time slows down,” said Wales, recalling his experience.
Unfortunately, IEDs are not the only threat the Marines operating in Ramadi face on a daily basis.
The Marines of 2nd Platoon were in a firefight May 24 and were able to kill one insurgent before he could fire his RPG and another as he fired an AK-47 assault rifle. The Marines then conducted a cordon and search operation that found IED-making materials and an assortment of digital cameras and cell phones.
“There are no cell phone towers here, so the phones were likely used to set off remote IEDs,” said Roos, 21, a squad leader from Cincinnati.
During another patrol May 25, the Marines used their trucks to conduct vehicle check points. In one situation, the Marines turned onto a road where there was a suspicious vehicle. The Marines dismounted their humvees and searched the sedan, driver and passenger. The search turned up nothing, and the Marines continued their patrol. The whole process took less than five minutes.
“It’s one way to keep insurgents disrupted,” said Roos. “We surprise them so they can’t lay IEDs and can’t attack our fixed positions.”
For the drivers in the company, it’s more than just traveling from point A to B.
When traveling on these roads, no matter how familiar, Marines have to keep their heads on a swivel, looking for any abnormalities that may be signs of IEDs or insurgent activity, said Wales.
“We are always on the lookout for hidden IEDs underneath the road,” said Wales. “We look for telltale signs that don’t match what we expect to see.”
Wales and the other Marines with the company say they don’t mind going on so many patrols a week.
“It’s good for us to be out there every day,” said Wales, now on his second deployment. “It’s better than sitting back, letting the insurgents have time to plant bigger stuff.
“It’s second nature once you’ve been out there a few times.”