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By Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes European Edition
Marine 1st Lt. Knox Nunnally, center, of Company D, 2nd Light
Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, addresses his platoon at Camp
Fallujah, Iraq, before it headed out on a recent night patrol
(Photo by Charlie Coon, Stars and Stripes).
FALLUJAH, Iraq - The platoon rolled out of Camp Baharia and onto
In a place where troops face situations that require them to kill
or be killed, the mood changes when the sun goes down. So do the tactics.
"During the day, it's a lot easier to see the enemy," said Lance Cpl.
Samuel Herzberg of Norman, Okla., and Company D, 2nd Light Armored
Reconnaissance Battalion. "But at night we've got night vision and
thermal vision. We see them before they see us.
"That's how we tear them up."
The five Light Armored Vehicles rolled north on Route 1 into a red
sunset. Children in an adjacent neighborhood played soccer while adults
stood nearby in small groups. Because it's 110 degrees or more in
the afternoon, Iraqis often wait until dusk to come outside. That
goes for the enemy as well.
The patrol moved ahead with lights out, even on darkened roads. Drivers
used night-vision gear to make their way.
"We're a little more stealth and it's harder for the enemy to see
us," said Sgt. Alfonso Nava of Dallas. "On the other hand, it can
be more dangerous. You can't see IEDs [improvised explosive devices]
like you can during the day."
In a way, the Marines can see more at night because the tracers of
gunfire and blast of rockets stand out in the darkness. The rocky
landscape appears dark green through night-vision goggles and appears
similar to the surface of the moon.
The patrol pulled off the highway several times and parked in adjacent
fields. The eight-wheeled LAVs looked like black silhouettes as they
sat parked. The Marines inside watched as convoys rolled by. The truckers
were not fired upon.
The troops can hear more at night, too, in the still of night when
every little sound stands out.
"At the same time we have to be quiet, too," said Lance Cpl. Jorge
Duarte of Graham, N.C. "Every little sound can give away your position."
Explosions are easily heard in the distance. A tiny, unmanned spy
plane buzzed overhead, sounding like a giant mosquito.
The Marines, when asked to talk about the difference between day and
night patrols, pointed to the differences as they pertain to warfare.
"At night, you shoot at silhouettes and muzzle flashes," Duarte said.
"During the day you can actually see another human being. You see
him drop to the ground and know if you got him or not."
But they also acknowledged that the nighttime weather made for more
tolerable working conditions.
Said one Marine: "[After a daytime patrol] you sleep for like 10 hours
and could sleep for a couple more because the sun just drains you."
As usual in central Iraq, where months can pass without a single cloud
appearing, the night sky was clear and the stars were brilliant. Through
night-vision goggles they are even more spectacular, a real life planetarium.
For all the fire, smoke and destruction that mark the Iraqi landscape
during the day, working the night patrol can provide the Marines with
a pleasant reprieve. When they park their vehicles in a field and
watch the highway, and 18-wheelers pass by without incident, the Marines
can relax under the stars.
And they talk about women and beer and barbecues.
"It's a lot easier to relax at night," Herzberg said. "Every time
you look up and see the stars, it's like, 'Man, I'm not always going
to be over here.' It brings back a lot of memories.
"Then you hear a little twig snap and you're back on your toes."