24th MEU, ING hunt down enemy mortarmen

31 Jul 2004 | Capt. David Nevers

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s ground combat element responded swiftly to a mortar attack here Friday, capturing several suspects, uncovering a weapons cache, and generating momentum for the MEU during its first week in full operational control of the province of Northern Babil.

Leathernecks from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, who just days ago relieved an Army unit being transferred elsewhere in Iraq, struck back after a half-dozen mortar rounds landed in the vicinity of their position just before 1 p.m.

No injuries or damage resulted from the attack, which occurred one week after a mortar round killed a BLT infantryman, Lance Cpl. Vincent M. Sullivan of Chatham, N.J.  Sullivan’s death, the first suffered by the North Carolina-based MEU since it arrived in Iraq, came before the unit finished flowing its forces into the country.

Friday’s attack was the first since 1/2 assumed responsibility for security in its zone.
According to an after-action report, the Marines, working closely with soldiers of the Iraqi National Guard, quickly determined the attack’s likely point of origin. They immediately cordoned off the area, called in aircraft from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 to assist, and began searching.

The first aircraft to arrive on scene observed three men running from bushes before boarding a bus. Lt. Col. Robert Durkin, the BLT commander, dispatched a section of Marines from his Combined Anti-Armor Team to intercept the bus. The Marines began closing in but lost the bus behind a dirt berm.  After concluding that the suspects had exited the vehicle, the CAAT section, known as CAAT 2, redirected its efforts.

Minutes later, word arrived in 1/2’s Combat Operations Center that a Marine and an ING soldier reported seeing the mortars being fired, then watched a truck leave the area.  The Marine further observed an individual clad in black exit the truck and enter a nearby house.

CAAT 2, led by Staff Sgt. Jason Jones of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, rushed to the house, where the Marines detained three individuals and found an assortment of weapons. A broader sweep of the area turned up more weapons and additional detainees.

“The weapons were extremely well-hidden,” said Jones.  “But the Marines picked it right out.”

The confiscated weapons included a complete mortar system, AK-47 rifles, spare magazines, and grenades.

Jones deferred credit to his Marines.  His section leader, Staff Sgt. Edward Palacious of San Antonio, Texas, worked with an Iraqi interpreter to question the detainees, while his squad leader, Sgt. Jason Smith of Tennessee, handled the search of the house.

“It was an absolutely A-day for the Marines of CAAT-2,” said Jones, who served in Iraq last year as a platoon sergeant for a tank team.

He added that from the COC to the field, good communication and coordination made for a nearly seamless operation.

“It was exactly like a 911 call,” he said.  “They called and we launched.”

Durkin, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., praised the level of cooperation between his Marines and their Iraqi counterparts.

“It’s a great start,” he said.  “It demonstrates what we can do by working together for the benefit of the Iraqi people. We look forward to building on that success.”

In turning the tables on insurgents who appear to be testing the newcomers, the Marines say they’ve merely provided the latest illustration of the aggressive approach adopted by the Corps throughout Iraq.

“If these punks think they can lob mortar rounds at us with impunity, while we hide in our base camps, we’ve got news for ‘em,” said the MEU’s operations officer, Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell of Jacksonville, N.C. “We and our Iraqi friends are going to clean up this area and kill or capture the enemies of a free Iraq.”