In Iraq, a country where temperatures often soar above 110 degrees and terrain is mostly fine grains of sand, Cpl. Derek Metallo never thought he’d find himself patrolling Al Anbar province in a boat when he arrived three months ago.
Metallo, a 27-year-old Marine reservist from Jacksonville, Fla., is part of a team of Marines who patrol the Euphrates River by boat, providing security to the Haditha Dam – one of the country’s largest sources of electrical power and home to the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment’s headquarters.
The dam provides electricity to thousands of Iraqis throughout the Al Anbar province, as well as portions of Baghdad.
While most U.S. and Iraqi military forces operate in the country’s cities and towns, Metallo and the dozens of Marines who make up the dam’s security unit spend their days patrolling the waterways on both sides of the dam.
“We patrol around the dam all day to make sure insurgents are not trying to breach the area around the dam,” said Metallo, a gunner assigned to the dam security unit.
On one patrol Metallo said an infantry company was receiving indirect fire from mortar rounds and the Marines located the insurgents. The insurgents fled the area when the Marines arrived.
The Marines use Small Unit Riverine Craft, military boats used by the Armed Forces to secure rivers and other small bodies of water, to patrol the Euphrates River and the manmade Lake Qadisiyah, which sits on the northern side of the dam.
The Security Unit’s Marines are mostly reservists who put their civilian lives on hold to support the Marines who operate out of the dam.
Cpl. Alexander Lucea was an airline pilot and lived in Hollywood, Fla., before he volunteered to join the Corps’ active duty ranks and serve as a gunner with the water-bound unit.
“Just like the active duty Marines, we all miss being at home,” said Lucea, 27. “The initial adjustment was the hardest part of coming to Iraq, but I enjoy being here with my fellow Marines.”
As the Marines patrol the bodies of water around the dam, they also keep their eyes open for any suspicious activity on the banks of the water. Recently, the Marines found a small cache of weapons hidden along the Euphrates River, said Metallo, a 27-year-old from Jacksonville, Fla.
“Some patrols are more interesting than others,” said Lucea. “We have responded to firefights involving the Marines from three/three and saw insurgents shooting mortars right off the bank of the river. You never know what is out there.”
The Marines are not only trying to keep the waterways clear and safe from insurgent activity, but also protect the hundreds of fisherman and farmers who work along the river’s banks.
“We have established a good relationship with the farmers and the fisherman,” said Lucea. “They know we are not the enemy and we are just here to help them.”
When the Marines arrived here earlier this year, locals were sometimes abrasive and rude with Marines when they searched their vehicles along the waterways. Now, the locals are cooperative with the Marines and realize they are protecting them and their families, said Lucea.
Although heat, insurgent attacks and the occasional uncooperative local makes the job challenging, Metallo said he still enjoys patrolling the waterways in the boats that come with twin turbo-charged diesel engines.
“These boats can stop on a dime even when they are going full speed,” said Metallo, who is a physics teacher at Inglewood High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
Now, Metallo and Lucea said they are looking forward to returning to their civilian lives in a few short months, but they will miss the Marines they met in their unit.
“I have always wanted to be a school teacher and a Marine, now I get to do both,” said Metallo. “Plus I got to ride cool boats while I was in Iraq.”