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thedrifter
10-05-05, 05:37 AM
Iowans work quickly to foil insurgent attacks
In minutes, soldiers turn suspected launch site into 'moon dust'
By JOHN CARLSON
REGISTER COLUMNIST

Ramadi, Iraq The Iowa National Guard soldiers pulled in close around their company commander for the mission briefing.

This one had come up fast, he said, and there wasn't much time to get rolling. It would be a demolition mission on the edge of Ramadi, an insurgent stronghold.

The Marines at Camp Blue Diamond, about 500 yards across the Euphrates River from where the Iowa soldiers are based at Camp Ramadi, had been pounded for months with rockets, mortars and small-arms fire. It eased off for a time but picked up again the last few weeks. Monday, they hoped to change things.

One of the insurgents' attack locations had been pretty much narrowed down to three small concrete-block buildings a few hundred yards from Blue Diamond, the base that houses the headquarters of the Second Marine Division. Prior to the start of the war in 2003, it was the site of one of Saddam Hussein's family palaces.

Members of the Iowa National Guard's 224th Engineer Battalion were ordered to bring in huge bulldozers to flatten the buildings believed to be a launching place for the insurgents' recent attacks.

Most of the Iowans from the 224th's Alpha Company being sent on the late-afternoon mission had been on their cots, trying to catch a nap before heading out on another assignment at 3 the next morning. Their naps didn't last long.

"No big deal," said Spec. Timothy Manos, 24, who in civilian life drives a forklift at an Iowa City factory. Today, he would drive Alpha Company commander Capt. Jason Wisehart's Humvee into a tense situation. Marines had been fighting insurgents most of the day just up the road from the buildings that were to be knocked down.

Things had quieted the last couple of hours, and the targeted buildings were in an area that was considered secure. A platoon, some of the Marines trotting alongside the 224th convoy, would provide security.

"Here are the buildings we're talking about," Iowa National Guard 1st Lt. Andrew Hoenig told the soldiers after they crossed the river to Blue Diamond, pointing to an aerial photograph. "Here's how we're going to get there. We're going to get in, do our job and get out."

An explosives team was in one of the vehicles in case an attack came and there wasn't time for the bulldozers to work. The fallback plan was to blow up the buildings.

The convoy left Blue Diamond at a crawl, bulldozers at the rear. The engineers were in heavily armored vehicles. Marines moved with them, aiming their weapons into tall stands of weeds and nearby buildings. They crouched behind concrete barricades and trees. Anything to give cover and return fire if it came.

A "Buffalo" vehicle, used by the 224th to disarm improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, hidden along roads, moved at the front of the convoy. The road is "lousy with IEDs," the Marines told the Iowans, although none was found this trip. Children wandered outside nearby houses and watched the convoy and the Marines.

The area was said to be loaded with snipers, but at this point in the day the chief concern was a mortar attack.

"The enemy is this way," a Marine told Wisehart and Maj. Allyn Gronewold, executive officer of the 224th, who was along on the mission. The Marine pointed to a stand of trees across the blacktop road and whatever was beyond.

"We're out here all the time," said Marine Cpl. Jeremy Medaugh of Dayton, Ohio, who ran alongside the vehicles. "We're really happy to do this one."

Medaugh and the Marines crouched and aimed their weapons. The bulldozers went to work on the three buildings, which were abandoned single-story concrete-block houses. The plan was to turn them to "moon dust" and deny insurgents a place to attack Blue Diamond.

The bulldozers took about 15 minutes. Then a Marine asked Wisehart whether the bulldozers could knock down a few trees blocking their view into the area.

"No problem," Wisehart said. That took maybe two minutes.

The soldiers from the 224th called it an "interesting and unique" mission. Normally, they are assigned to use their equipment to detect and disarm IEDs and escort convoys around much of western Iraq. Monday's demolition mission probably had been planned for some time. The stepped-up attacks in recent days made it urgent.

Col. David Hough, commander of the 2nd Marine Division's headquarters battalion, shook hands with Gronewold and Wisehart and thanked them when the Iowans returned to Blue Diamond.

"The Marines would do anything for these guys," Hough said later.

"They get out there and find and get rid of these IEDs. You can't ask more than that."

There were no guarantees Monday's mission would end the close-in attacks on the Marines.

There's just one indication it was a success: No mortars were fired into Camp Blue Diamond on Monday night.

Ellie