FALLUJAH, Iraq -- As Marines strive to regain control here, one motor transportation company leads the charge through continuous ambushes hell-bent on cutting logistics lines feeding front-line troops engaged in Operation Vigilant Resolve.
Since the operation kicked off April 4, 2004, Combat Service Support Company 111 has been jumping behind the wheel at a moment's notice both day and night trucking a myriad of supplies to infantry Marines of Regimental Combat Team 1 operating in and around the volatile city.
Moving supplies to troops at the front is no Sunday drive in a city where un-uniformed, anti-coalition insurgents blend in with the civilian population and lay in wait to spring roadside traps for passing convoys.
The Marines in the driver's seats have no choice but to take to the road, however. The supplies they carry keep the troops who battle house-to-house alive: water, food, ammunition.
The company hauls approximately 90 percent of all supplies used by Marines for Vigilant Resolve, said 1st Lt. Joshua D. Lyons, 25, one of the company's platoon commanders.
In their staging lot on Camp Fallujah, vehicles shouldering loads of the most commonly requested items sit poised to hit the road, cutting any extra time it would take to load up supplies after they're requested. For most runs, convoys only take about an hour to load and launch, said Lyons, a native of Carlsbad, Calif.
Besides supplies, the drivers also move people, including enemy prisoners to jails and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps troops to re-enforce Marines here.
When the Marines take to the road, they never know what to expect.
On a short trip into the city on April 8, a convoy dropped off concertina wire, lumber and barricades essential to build up the grunts' positions in the city. As Marine truck drivers and forklift operators offloaded their cargo, explosions rumbled, smoke billowed and helicopter gun ships rained fire from above as the Marines they supported fought a fierce firefight just a few blocks away. Luckily for them, the convoy was quick and without incident. The Marines considered it a rarity.
"The last two days have been pretty crazy," said truck driver Cpl. John T. Andress, a 24-year-old Los Angeles native.
Later that day, the company suffered their first loss -- Lance Cpl. Levi T. Angell, 20, of St. Louis, Minn. -- who was killed after a rocket-propelled grenade impacted the vehicle he was driving. Andress was among the Marines who helped pull Angell out of the vehicle.
Andress said he's baffled at how he can be alive and Angell isn't.
The night before Angell died, an improvised explosive ripped through the 7-ton truck Andress was driving on a refueling mission. As a result, the truck crept through the "kill zone" at about 5 mph, but Andress kept the convoy moving because the road was only one-lane wide and other vehicles were trailing behind him. Then an RPG pierced his truck and lodged right behind the cab, unexploded.
"It didn't blow up. It should have," Andress said.
The next day, Andress, still shaken, had another run.
"I don't know how I do it. I'm not here right now. My mind's somewhere else," said Andress.
In the face of constant danger, the company of about 125 Marines doesn't quit.
"Our Marines want to go on the road. They want to do their share," said the mustached Lyons.
I Marine Expeditionary Force launched Vigilant Resolve to re-establish order in the city and to account for the March 31 murders of four U.S. citizens who were dragged through the streets and mutilated. The company falls under Combat Service Support Battalion 1, based in Camp Fallujah, which provides direct service support to Regimental Combat Team 1.
About half of the company's Marines are veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and unit commanders look to them to keep an eye out for the new guys, though most of the salty ones aren't even used to the ruthless ambushes.
"This time it's completely different," said Andress.
The unit returned from Iraq in September 2003, after eight months overseas, and then redeployed in February. During their short period of downtime back in the states, the company, like most Marine units returning to Iraq, focused their training on some of the latest enemy tactics, primarily hit-and-run harassment of supply convoys.
At their home base in Camp Pendleton, Calif., the company's parent unit, 1st Force Service Support Group, has established convoy security courses for its Marines and sailors as well as heavy machine gun training for those manning the weapons that top many of the vehicles on the road in Iraq.
As Vigilant Resolve continues, the company's pace is unlikely to decelerate since Marines with boots on the ground will always mean rubber on the road.