Tankers lead team in sweep of RCT-5’s barren northern desert

5 Dec 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

Tankers from Regimental Combat Team 5 made tracks in the barren deserts north of Fallujah in search of weapons caches and insurgent activity.

Marines from C Company, 2nd Tank Battalion, along with Team Gator's TOW Platoon, 2nd Tank Battalion and Marines of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, fanned out across the Northern Regimental Security Area recently, uncovering weapons caches and discovering an insurgent training area. The multi-day operation was designed to disrupt insurgent activity in a region where Marines maintain little presence in the sparsely populated region.

"The fact we did get up there and disrupt cache sites sends a little bit of a message," said Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Silvio, a 25-year-old communications chief for C Company. "It lets the population know the Coalition presence is still here."

Tankers mounted up in humvees rather than their M-1A1 Main Battle Tanks and employed Marines from their support elements along with traditional tankers. Armorers, communicators and mechanics were used in the mission. They scoured open swaths of desert, stopping to speak with Iraqi farmers and inspecting possible weapons caches.

"For us to put guys on the deck is a big thing," explained Silvio, from Pittsburgh. "They were going house to house. They did a real good job given the short amount of time they had."

Marines spoke with local Iraqis at their small farmhouses. Farmers stood at their doorways, welcoming Marines into their homes and out of the cold, desert morning air. At other locations, Marines swept over the large, looming wells scraped from the desert floor. And still other locations, they stopped and searched vehicles.

"This is completely different than what we would usually do," said Staff Sgt. James M. Sturla, a 27-year-old master gunner for the tank company from Pompton Plains, N.J. "For many of us, this is our first time being in a truck instead of a tank. We were out there disrupting, going through houses, talking to people and conducting snap vehicle checkpoints."

The Marines' efforts were rewarded. Marines uncovered several small caches, including munitions that could be used for making improvised explosive devices. Neighboring Marines from 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment discovered an insurgent training area, with spent brass and targets where insurgents apparently were practicing before moving into more populated areas to carry out attacks.

"It's real satisfying," Sturla said of finding the buried caches. "Just getting that ammunition off the street is one less weapon they can use to make an IED."

The tankers' adaptability was tested even further as they were moving south after the mission was over. Lead elements of their convoy were attacked by an IED and small-arms fire. Marines at the front of the column maneuvered to return fire on insurgents in two vehicles.

Following the attacks, C Company's tankers turned their trucks around and started conducting searches on vehicles that matched the description of those that attacked the convoy. Marines stopped drivers, systematically searched vehicles, uncovering one with an empty AK-47 magazine before another Iraqi flagged down the Marines.

The Iraqi driver had his brother in the truck who suffered an open gunshot wound he claimed was the result of insurgents attacking them. A corpsman on the scene treated the wound, while Marines questioned his brothers and called for a medevac for the wounded Iraqi.

"I think they did exceptionally well," said Capt. Charles W. Fretwell, C Company's commander. "They did the tactical missions we should all be familiar with. It showed tanks are more than capable as any unit out there."

Headquarters Marine Corps