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Platoon Resumes Patrolling Iraqi Roads
By Sandra Jontz
Stars and Stripes
Mideast Edition
May 7, 2005

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq First Lt. Erik Cooper won't leave to his subordinate Marines what he says he can, and should, do himself. When someone spots a suspected roadside bomb, Cooper is the one who musters up to investigate, up close and personal.

"It's the platoon commander's job to lead by example," the 25-year-old leader of 1st Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment said, after tossing from a median what turned out to be a benign piece of wadded-up clothing.

But it could have been a bomb.

On Wednesday, Weapons Company resumed its 24-hour patrolling of two of the most dangerous highways in Iraq, Main Service Road Michigan and Main Service Road Mobile. The company was pulled off the detail to provide security for the battalion's weekend sweep of the city of Karmah.

Marines and Iraqi Security Forces had descended on the city of 70,000 to search every house and business for suspected insurgents and weapons. About 30 suspects were detained and several caches confiscated, with no fatalities reported.

During the raid, Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 8 shifted over to patrol Michigan and Mobile. The routes are not Battalion 8's normal territory and battalion members don't know the hot spots where insurgents plant roadside and car bombs, said the battalion's executive officer, Maj. Larry Miller.

"We expected the worst, but because the elements who had taken over did a great job, when we went back out we weren't so adversely affected," said Weapons Company Commander Capt. Ed Nevgloski.

"But we did find several new holes," Nevgloski said, seemingly freshly dug for possible hiding spots.

In their nearly four months of patrols here, 1st Platoon alone has come across 16 improvised explosive devices, or IEDs more than any other of the five platoons within Weapons Company. It's a statistic they wear like a badge of honor.

Of the 16, half were direct hits in which some Marines sustained minor wounds. The remaining eight were spotted, cordoned off and destroyed before insurgents could hit the trigger, Cooper said.

Insurgents have buried bombs in shallow holes along roadway shoulders, planted them in trash bags, tires, dead animals, cinder blocks and under manhole covers. An abandoned car could be packed with explosives. Anything draws their attention, Marines said.

And Weapons Company platoon leaders have a pact to investigate them themselves.

"You gotta take a risk sometimes," Cooper said. "Some might think that we'd send the young Marine to check it out, but that's not how we do things."

"Nowadays, we find a lot more before they go off, [as opposed to] them hitting us," Cooper said.

"The whole reason we do this is to allow freedom of movement" for military convoys and locals who just want to go about their daily lives, Cooper said. "We take the punches and nosebleeds for everyone else."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2005 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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