Saturday, January 21, 2006
We're Surrounded...That Simplifies the Problem
"All right, they're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of
us, they're behind us...they can't get away this time"
- Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, USMC
We Marines have long cultivated a penchant for being surrounded by the enemy and convincing ourselves this is a good thing. Our Corps' lore is steeped in legendary encirclements from the Boxer Rebellion in Peking, to the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, and the Khe Sanh firebase in Vietnam. To this list will be added Observation Post Horea in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. The main artery running through Ramadi is called Main Supply Route (MSR) Michigan. Between the Saddam Mosque and the Government Center lies a stretch of MSR Michigan that once sprouted IEDs the way Chia Pets grow hair. Other than Route Irish, the main road to Baghdad International Airport, this street was the deadliest in Iraq. Several months back the Marines of 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment (3/7) stood up an isolated outpost on Michigan in the bombed out remains of a former Iraqi government passport agency. From this vantage point, where the road bends, they could observe both the Government Center (manned by Marines as well) and the Saddam Mosque (alleged source of terrorist hijinx). The insurgents, appreciating the tactical advantage gained by the Marines with this move, quickly began daily attacks on OP Horea employing rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), heavy machine gun fire, and mortars. The surrounding buildings bear the unmistakable scars of failed insurgent assaults. I'm happy to report that during my 3 day sojourn at the OP there were no attacks. Additionally, no IEDs were detonated against coalition forces during by entire 10 day visit to Ar Ramadi. This is not to say that none were planted by the insurgency, but those secreted onto the street were found and destroyed by emergency ordnance disposal teams (EOD). Unable to bury IEDs with their usual care and stealth, the terrorists have been reduced to quickly dropping packages out of car doors. OP Horea is garrisoned by a team of Marines and Iraqi soldiers. Together they share the dangers and hardships of manning Horea's five posts around the clock. Together they live as best they can in the dark bombed out gothic interior; the Marines taking the second floor and the Iraqi "jundi" (Arabic for soldier) the first. The Marines, not ones to give compliments, freely remark about the growing competency and aggressiveness of their jundi counterparts. Up on Horea's roof there's a forest of poles supporting a canopy of camouflage netting creating a wonderland of dappled shadows over the sandbagged fighting positions. Poking my head into the claustrophobic confines of the main observation positions, the ever professional tactical lance corporals report their posts with a simple introductory comment "Sir, I cannot stand up due to the sniper threat", after which a detailed litany of lateral limits, key terrain features, fields of fire and rules of engagement are recited. They point out major structures from which they've taken fire with nicknames like "The Gay Palace", "Swiss Cheese Building" and "Beirut Hotel". More than once the sergeant of the guard, with respectful but firm diplomacy, chased me from a spot I've selected to sketch with cautionary words about snipers and indirect fire. Most of my visual experience of OP Horea, therefore, is captured in photographs, rather than drawings. I've returned to the relative comfort and safety of Camp Fallujah. The Marines of F/3/7 are still out there in the goo, manning Horea with the enemy exactly where they and the ghost of Chesty Puller would have them, to the front, back, left and right.