FORWARD OPERATING BASE ISKANDARIYAH, Iraq -- It started out much like every security and counter-mortar patrol conducted from the forward operating base here. Marines gathered in the tent of the patrol leader to receive the patrol order. This time, the leader was Sgt. Robert Ballance, 24, a squad leader and Springfield, Ill., native with Alpha Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 2nd Marines. As Ballance went over his patrol route, an area his Marines were familiar with, he told the Marines to pay attention to an apartment complex in Iskandariyah from which several patrols had received small-arms fire in the previous few days. "When we get by the apartments, we'll see if anyone wants to put their dukes up," Ballance told the Marines who seemed excited about the opportunity to engage enemy Iraqi insurgents. Six hours later, the Marines from Alpha Co. had already covered much of their route and conducted several hasty vehicle checkpoints along the way. They also uncovered more than 200 empty 155 mm artillery shells, requiring them to provide security around the area until the arrival of Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians. Now they found themselves on their way to the apartments in Iskandariyah they were warned about earlier. The humvees were on a small dirt road that ran along a canal. It was getting late and becoming difficult to see.Just as the convoy began slowing down to scout out the apartments, the dark sky around them lit up with tracer rounds from enemy machine gun and small arms fire."What the (expletive) was that?" said Lance Cpl. Brad Stringfellow, 20, a Dearborn Heights, Mich., native and mortarman who instantly started returning fire.The patrol's mounted M-240G machine guns began to unload, sending even more tracers flying across the horizon."Lance Cpl. Michael Levinson, 20, a Boston native and the patrol's forward observer, briefly stopped returning fire and got on his radio. "We've been engaged, we've been engaged," he said into the handset."After they opened up on us, all the vehicles spread out and we gained fire superiority over them. I don't run," said Ballance. "We were attacking these guys."The next thing you heard was the blast from a rocket propelled grenade followed by more small-arms and machine gun fire, which seemed to be coming from both the north and the south.Then came the dreaded sound of "I'm hit, I'm hit." It was Levinson. He had taken shrapnel in his hand and arm. Stringfellow also took some shrapnel to his hand. "I was bleeding pretty badly," he said. "That made me mad so I jumped up and kept firing at them."Levinson then jumped out of the vehicle and ran to a radio to call for artillery illumination rounds over the area. At the same time, Stringfellow and Lance Cpl. Kevan Horn, 23, an Inez, Ky., native and mortarman, grabbed their 60 mm mortar tube and started sending up illumination rounds, making it easier for the other Marines to see what they were shooting at.The patrol's machine guns continued to light up the area. The enemy fire began to slow down.The artillery illumination rounds were now overhead and most of the firing had ceased. The Marines waited awhile, then jumped back in their vehicles and sped to the FOB to get their casualties treated."That was a prime time for them to attack us. I think everyone did well after the initial shock of getting hit," said Ballance. "Everyone knew their job and went to it."I didn't think they would attack us like that," said Horn. "When I looked out and saw all those tracers, I didn't know what we would do."Ballance and Horn agreed that Stringfellow and Levinson both did an excellent job."It was intense" said Levinson. "It all seems like a haze, but it was a rush from hell. I think everyone did a great job. They all knew what they had to do."The Marines from Alpha Co. all made it back from the fight in Iskandariyah. Stringfellow and Levinson are recovering, but their wounds haven't dampened their spirits. All of the Marines seemed ready for their next patrol.