MARINE COMBAT HEADQUARTERS, Central Iraq -- In the midst of a sprawling complex of warehouses, factories and other various buildings, Marines with F Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, raided the liar of a suspected regime death squad, April 8.
Marines tactically moved through dozens of buildings before finding the six-room apartment apparently being occupied by forces loyal to Saddam Hussein's regime.
Word of the find passed among the squads quickly. A security perimeter was immediately established around the quarters. A crude bunker was found and searched nearby.
New rocket-propelled grenades, documents and military uniforms were seized. The dwelling was hardly a sanitary environment. Human waste, rice, noodles, eggshells and dirty clothing littered the floor. The walls were plastered with Iraqi newspapers bearing images of Saddam.
"I was clearing rooms that were obviously being lived in," said Cpl. Juan C. Serrano, 22, a vehicle commander with 2/6's combined anti-armor team. "The place was a mess. I looked above a door and saw an RPG in the air duct. It was brand new, still in cardboard."
If the enemy forces return, they will find that I MEF explosive ordnance disposal team took control of the munitions. A prominently displayed color photograph of Saddam was defaced during the raid. The Marine Corps Seal has replaced his infamous mustached face.
The day of discovery started under a gray, early-morning sky. The Marines entered the gated-compound and moved through several industrial structures quickly. Many local Iraqis were looting unattended lumber, steel beams and other building supplies.
Marines directed the scavengers to leave the area, and searched those who had to pass through Marine-controlled sectors to do so. No one was detained. Several tried to sell cigarettes to the troops. Others wanted to trade Iraqi currency for American dollars. Several boys relayed a message via impromptu sign language.
First they pointed to Saddam Hussein's face on the bills. Then, with the same finger they used to point, they made a throat slashing motion. They finished their message with a bright smile and a "thumbs-up." The performance was well received among the Marines.
Lance Cpl. Christopher Katthage, a 20-year-old point man with F/2/6, saw the display.
"They seem very happy we're here," the Missouri City, Texas, native said. "We're careful around them all because you never can tell who is who, but there is a lot of waving and cheering from them."
As the sun climbed, so did the temperatures. Marines pressed on through the buildings, some of which were several stories high. Despite the numerous structures, there was little shade. Sweaty hands made the shotguns, M-16 rifles and M-9 pistols slippery.
One of the facilities the infantrymen searched was an abandoned prison. The old detention center was in shambles. Iron rods protruded through windows. Graffiti covered what was left of battered walls. The entire floor was coated in human excrement. The cells, which still had red steel-bar doors hanging on the entranceways, had no toilets or sinks.
The rough terrain between clusters of buildings in the compound made moving difficult, but the Marines used it to their advantage. They ran from one pile of sand and rock to another, taking cover behind each. The company steered clear of patches of spilled oil and wetlands.
An extensive road system wound through the complex. The Marines avoided paved areas while on foot, but they had to cross several streets. They directed vehicles headed their direction to turn around. Every truck, van and car obeyed.
Uncovering the enemy position was just the way the Marines wanted to end the long day.
"It was a great operation," said Sgt. Jonathan B. Williams, 30, a squad leader from Paragould, Ark. "Everyone worked well. We learned a lot about ourselves, and we took weapons away from the enemy. We'll sleep well tonight."