RAMADI, Iraq -- An insurgent's lifeless body lay on the ground, evidence of the fighting the night before. Five Marines reflected on the situation before turning away to listen to Army Capt. John P. Hiltz brief them on their task at hand: quickly build a wall to protect a new combat outpost in southern Ramadi.
For the next three days this handful of Marines would fight sporadic attacks from insurgents and lack of sleep while operating their lumbering, armored forklifts to emplace concrete and sand-filled barriers at the makeshift base dubbed Combat Outpost Falcon.
Combat Outpost Falcon would be one of the newest fortified positions emplaced in the battle ridden capital of the Al Anbar province during a month-long operation aimed at taking and holding key terrain throughout the city. The Marines and their forklifts would play a critical role in accomplishing this mission.
Moments after arriving at their destination the Marines, and Hiltz' Army engineers they were supporting, were welcomed by two mortars landing nearby - a sign of events to come.
In the first hour, rockets and mortars continued to harass the compound as the heavily armored forklifts - called TRAMs - were offloaded and the Marines were briefed on their mission.
TRAM is the Marine acronym for "Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated steering, Multi-purpose."
The five Marines - four heavy equipment operators and a mechanic - were brought in from Combat Logistics Detachment 115 to put their TRAMs to the test. The armored enhancement added to the cab provided them with protection as they carefully moved thick concrete walls, seven feet tall and seven feet wide, meant to protect the U.S. and Iraqi forces that would be making Falcon their new home.
With a high threat of suicide bombers in Ramadi who might attempt to ram Falcon with a vehicle packed with explosives, the Marines also placed the barriers at the entrances with an aim at preventing this threat from penetrating their position.
The sound of machinegun fire could be heard as the Army's Task Force 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment continued fighting in neighboring streets as Falcon was being fortified.
Mission accomplishment meant constant work for the Marines. Three slept while two worked, switching out every six hours. The extreme temperatures hovering over 100 at night in the houses they were using for makeshift quarters made sleep difficult.
"We haven't slept much at all," drawled 21-year-old Lance Cpl. William D. Weatherspoon in his Lee County, Ky., accent after the initial 27 hours.
In spite of the circumstances, the Marines made sure to honor a special occasion while here. Corporal Travis J. Anderson, a native of Holt, Neb., celebrated his 23rd birthday enduring enemy contact.
Anderson made sure that with all the gear he carried with him into the city there was room for a care package from his family he saved as a birthday present. The environment may have been the frontlines of Ramadi, but there's no reason not to have some good snacks, he reasoned.
Breaks were taken when the Marines could fit them in, with their focus being on emplacing the barriers as smoothly as possible. Trucks from nearby Camp Ramadi would roll into the outpost bringing load after load of the concrete behemoths.
The Marines were catching their breath during a short pause in operations when their silence was abruptly broken by the sudden and powerful explosion of more rockets landing nearby. In a matter of seconds, they had donned their body armor and Kevlar helmets.
"Medic!" was screamed by soldiers a short distance away, as the Marines rushed to see if they could lend a hand.
Weatherspoon provided security as Army medics worked feverishly to save the wounded soldier hit by shrapnel from one of the rockets. The Marines would find out later the soldier succumbed to his wounds.
The experience of building a combat outpost in the heart of the deadliest city in Al Anbar was new for the Marines and their forklifts.
Building a fortified position as fighting took place nearby was a change of pace from unloading and moving pallets of supplies at their home base of Camp Taqaddum, a main logistics hub east of here where their parent unit, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, is located.
Combat Outpost Falcon, and other missions that would follow, proved to be a memorable challenge for the Marines.
"The things I've seen out here, I'll never forget," said Pfc. Michael E. Jordan, a native of Detroit, as he looked out over Falcon, another stepping stone commanders here hope will help secure the city.
Email Cpl. Redding at email@example.com.