RAMADI, Iraq -- In recent days, the tempo of security operations have significantly increased in this insurgent stronghold.
As U.S. and Iraqi forces push further into the city they plan to hold the ground they take by setting up small outposts on the insurgents' doorstep.
Under sporadic small-arms, rocket and mortar fire, five Marines emplaced over 300 concrete barriers in 27 hours to provide secure borders for a new Iraqi army outpost in this capital city of the Al Anbar province.
The Marines, from Combat Logistics Detachment 115, utilized heavily armored forklifts, commonly referred to as TRAMS, to help the U.S. Army secure a heavier presence of Iraqi Security Forces in the most dangerous city in the region.
Combat Logistics Detachment 115, part of Combat Logistics Regiment 15 at nearby Camp Taqaddum, a sprawling logistics base east of here, was recently mobilized to help the Army's 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, build several outposts in the city.
"We are trying to get a Coalition and Iraqi presence in an area that previously didn't have one," said Army Capt. John P. Hiltz, commander, Charlie Company, 40th Engineer Battalion.
Two mortars landed in the first 10 minutes the Marines were on the ground at the outpost, known as Combat Outpost Falcon. Several more fell within the first hour.
"It was pretty tough the first hour and a half to two hours, a baptism by fire" said Pfc. Michael D. Jordan, one of the TRAM operators who braved hostile fire to build a safe spot for the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers.
TRAM is a Marine acronym for 'Tractor, Rubber-tired, Articulated steering, Multipurpose.'
Undeterred, the Marines quickly got down to business. Working in shifts, they emplaced the barriers, guided around the small confines of the outpost by the Army engineers in charge of the barrier emplacement operation.
The barriers are being used to create entry control points and limit access to the area now controlled by the ISF in the heart of the city.
Initial predictions estimated the project would take 48 to 72 hours, but the Marines completed 90 percent of the work in 24 hours, said Hiltz, a 30-year-old native of Chelmsford, Mass.
Hiltz paused during the operation to praise the capabilities of the Marines working for him. "Without their skill, we wouldn't be a day ahead of schedule," he said. "They have been working (nonstop) putting these barriers in to protect the COP."
Familiarity with each other and their equipment, along with the intensity of the environment, enabled the fast-paced mission accomplishment, said Lance Cpl. William D. Weatherspoon, a 21-year-old native of Lee County, Ky., and a heavy equipment operator with the detachment.
"It was a comfort knowing that the up-armored forklifts were here and available to us, knowing that we didn't have to worry about pot-shots or in-direct fire," Jordan said. "It made it more comfortable to operate."
The up-armored protection was added several months ago by the unit while at Camp Taqaddum.
Soldiers from Task Force 1st Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, along with Iraqi soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 7th Division, conducted operations from the outpost while the Marines fortified the borders of the camp.
In between emplacing barriers, the Marines repeatedly provided security for the soldiers. A member of the ISF was wounded by an insurgent attack and was quickly brought here for treatment.
The logistics Marines guarded the surrounding area as the patient was stabilized and loaded onto one of the Army's nearby vehicles for medical evacuation to Camp Ramadi.
An American soldier was later wounded by a rocket attack. As the urgent call "Medic" was yelled by soldiers nearby, the CLD 115 Marines responded to provide security.
All five Marines agreed that operating under the intense reality of a possible insurgent attack at any moment was difficult, but they said that's simply what Marines do.
"The things I've seen out here, I'll never forget," said Jordan, a 23-year-old Detroit native.
"It's good to know I played a partial role in what we're doing out here in Iraq, giving (them) positive things to think about the Marine Corps," Jordan said.
The soldiers and Marines agreed the ISF utilizing the new COP for combat operations gave hope for an independent Iraqi military.
"I've been impressed with the (Iraqi soldiers) out here," Hiltz said. "They've looked like infantrymen ... like tankers. ... When you equip them properly, they stand up to the job. They are as good as any other soldier."
"Everytime we build a new combat outpost, we take it to the enemy," said Hiltz. "Right now, COP FALCON is the frontline of Ramadi."
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