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10-21-06, 07:17 AM
Patrolling with Marines along ‘Route Michigan’

Bucks County Courier Times

HURRICANE POINT, Iraq — Despite the sobering loss of three Marines from Charlie Co., 1/6, killed here two nights ago, the missions into town continue.

This morning I’ve been invited to accompany two platoons from Weapons Company on a “disruption” mission.

Second Lt. John Dalen Bunch put me in the lead Humvee and briefed me on the assignment. “We’ll be looking for IEDs and rocket launchers, and we’ll be making house calls to work on our census data as well as gauge who’s a friend and who’s not,” he said.

Behind us in Humvees were Cpl. Matt Castoro from Jackson, N.J., and Lance Cpl. Walt Adams of Georgetown, Del. With Lance Cpl. Mitchell Caluri of Bangor, Maine, driving our Humvee, and Lance Cpl. Paul Spinelli up in the turret, we rolled into town.

The main street in Ramadi is called “MSR Michigan” (as in main supply route). It’s the major highway out of Baghdad that runs west through Fallujah into the desert, back into Ramadi, and then out to the western desert region. It’s the main route for weapons, IEDs, insurgents and American supply convoys, so it’s vitally important in the battle of these cities.

Within the city of Ramadi, “Route Michigan” is a flat, dusty, garbage-strewn fourlane highway, and many side streets have been blocked by concrete barriers (installed by Marine engineers in order to control security) or cars shredded and destroyed by explosives the last few years. Light and power poles tilt at crazy angles, with wires dangling.

According to Weapons Company commander Capt. Todd Mahar, keeping control of this road is an important facet in barring insurgents and explosives from the city.

As our convoy crawled down Michigan, Lt. Bunch reminded Caluri and Spinelli to keep their eyes peeled for loose wires on the ground, bags, fresh dirt and anything that might look suspicious. “They’ll even cut holes in the floorboards of their cars and drop small IEDs through the holes onto the road.”

Everything here looks suspicious.

Less than five minutes a half-mile down Michigan, a huge blast sounded directly behind us.

Bunch was on the radio immediately. “PaleRider, who’s hit, what’s your status?” he shouted.

Everyone was OK. An IED had exploded approximately 100 meters behind us, between Humvees 2 and 3. Both suffered cracked glass, but fortunately no one was injured. So we move on.

There were crowds on the residential side streets as we turned down one.

A few small storefront markets sold melons, chickens, rice, fruits, sundries and sodas. The shops here are similar to a bodega, including the socialization a familyowned shop provides.

The children shrieked and ran to our vehicles screaming at us, waving, smiling and hoping we’d throw them soccer balls, school supplies and other items. “Seeing the people outside with their children is great,” Bunch explained. “It means that there are no IEDs planted on this street.”

“It’s also a way to gauge attitudes. It’s when folk pull their kids indoors that we begin to worry,” added Caluri.

This was a friendly area, so the Marines waved and tossed giveaways to the children.

But there was a different tone a few streets over.

“Stop here,” Bunch ordered. We pulled over and knocked on the door of a house to chat with the owner. Inside, the reception was chilly.

Despite the best efforts of the Marine translator, the owner was surly; the women and children were uncooperative, and the overall attitude was hostile.

“We’ll be back,” the lieutenant told me. “If they’re not actively involved in the opposition, they know who is.”