CAMP TAQADDUM, Iraq -- Marine have taken the fight to the streets in Iraq disposing of improvised explosive devices which are a constant threat to military forces and Iraqi civilians in the Al Anbar province.
Combat engineers with 1st Platoon, A Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, do their part in an effort to neutralize IEDs in the Al Anbar province, the battalion is currently attached to 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
“Our main focus is securing the roads,” said Cpl. George T. O’Donnell, lead scout vehicle commander with 1st Platoon. “We do this so the (civilians) can drive and walk down the road without getting hurt.”
Improvised explosive devices have become a developing threat to coalition forces throughout OIF.
“The IED threat is so much more now,” said Staff Sgt. Michael R. Leisure, platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon. “Back in Operation Iraqi Freedom I, I would be driving a soft-top humvee with no small-arm protective insert (SAPI) plates in, but now we actually go out and look for IEDs.”
The platoon, commanded by 1st Lt. Kirk A. Whittenberg, organizes vehicle patrols to ensure the roads are safe for all local civilians, U.S. and Iraqi military forces.
“The job itself is stressful enough,” said Whittenberg, a Chester, Ill., native. He stated the majority of all hostile deaths in Iraq come from IEDs, adding that their job is to locate and examine potential IEDs.
The featured Marines agree that the job is worth the effort despite the stress.
O’Donnell, an Auburn, Ill., native said the most rewarding factor is to know the Marines are actually helping the people.
Seeing the local children and adults smile and wave at the Marines is a priceless feeling, said O’Donnell, 24.
This is 9th ESB’s first tour to Iraq after two deployments to Korea. Whittenberg, 24, added that the unit has formed a bond from working with each other while based out of the 3rd MLG, Okinawa, Japan.
The platoon’s diversity is the foundation of their mission’s success.
“The reason that they work together so well, is because of everyone’s background,” said Leisure, 33.
“The feelings and the interaction…I am closer to these guys more than anybody ever in my life,” said Lance Cpl. Jason H. Gerstner, 31, a member of the rear security element with 1st Platoon.
The Irwin, Pa., native, felt he wanted to pursue something in his life that was more meaningful than the one he had, he said. When he joined the Marines, he knew that his contribution to his country would take sacrifice, like leaving his 8-year-old son behind.
“I just put the trust in the rest of the Marines in the truck because we make a good crew,” said Cpl. Nathan M. Treichel, 21, a gunner with 1st Platoon and a New Oxford, Pa., native.
Whittenberg said that 1st Platoon, in addition to securing the roads for Iraqi civilians and the combat units, also builds living quarters for the service members in Camp Ramadi and Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.
Gerstner said he has been focused ever since he went on a mission for the first time. “I had my flack and Kevlar helmet on,” said Gerstner. “(And) I knew right then, it was game on.”
The platoon will remain on course with their everyday mission until replaced by B Company, 6th Engineer Support Battalion Marine reserve unit out of South Bend, Ind., who will be assigned to 9th Engineer Support Battalion. The battalion is scheduled to remain here until spring 2007.