AL ASAD, Iraq -- Al Asad is like a stronghold, within that stronghold, the joint efforts of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen ensure that daily operations continue in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. However, on the outside the Marines of Entry Control Point 1, Bravo Battery, 1st Platoon, 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense, are ensuring no hostile traffic is entering the stronghold.
The Marines manning ECP 1 receive all non-Coalition Forces traffic, including Iraqi nationals on foot and by vehicle. Anyone entering through the ECP must undergo several types of searches.
The ECP contains many layers of defense. Each area of the checkpoint contains its own defenses, like the drop gate area. The Marines manning this section are kept safe by sandbags, bunkers, and heavy weapons while they locate any incoming traffic or examine vehicles.
Not only is the ECP a protective measure for the base, but is also designed to protect the Marines around it. The first line of defense for the checkpoint is the Cobra team, who conducts mounted patrols outside the base to ensure Iraqi civilians aren’t coming too close and looking for out of the ordinary conduct. When not on patrol, they receive incoming Iraqi traffic and ensure there is no hostile intent.
“This is more of an advanced level of security; we’re the frontline of defense for the ECP,” said Cpl. Aron Jarvi, a low altitude air defense gunner with 2nd LAAD. “We see a lot and hear a lot. As far as Cobra, our main focus is to support ECP 1. We also gather intelligence and keep sheep herders away from the base.”
One way that Marines ensure their own safety is varying their operations. Complacency is the number one enemy for all service members in Iraq and the Marines guarding ECP 1 work hard to defeat it.
“I think the hardest thing for all of us is pushing to ensure that we don’t become complacent,” said Sgt. Timothy Paterson, a low-altitude air defense gunner from 2nd LAAD. “I look at the same parts of the vehicle but I have to make myself do it again and again because I can’t let my mind trick me into thinking I’ve already seen it. There are people coming through so much, that there is a little push in the back of your brain saying ‘I’ve seen this guy before, I’ve checked before.’”
The Marines remain vigilant by rotating to different areas of the checkpoint. This keeps Marines from becoming too comfortable with their posts.
“By rotating, as our command has let us, it kind of gives everybody a different feel,” said Paterson, the day shift leader. “We’re fresh right now and we’re checking everything.”
Constructive criticism is another tactic the Marines use to keep the insurgents at bay. Everyone at the checkpoint is constantly trying to make the base defenses better.
“We constantly come up with new ideas,” said Paterson, a Patchogue, N.Y. native. “We accept the lance corporals ideas. I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘You are a lance corporal, your idea is not important.’ Everybody who is part of the team is constantly pushing forward.”
Since taking command of ECP 1, 2nd LAAD has improved the checkpoint’s defenses, like adding more concealment, new trenches, and more concertina and serpentine wire.
The Marines also adjusted the deadly force line, which is a set perimeter that determines where the Marines will no longer be safe from an enemy attack. The Marines use escalation of force if anyone attempts to cross the deadly force line.
“One thing that the previous unit passed to us was the deadly force line was too close,” said Paterson. “The enemy is constantly improving and we need to constantly defend, so we pushed the deadly force line out.”
The outlines for mission success is cut and dry for first platoon; to ensure that no Iraqi makes it on or off base with items that could be used as weapons.
“A lot of people might look at it like it’s just an entry control point,” said Paterson. “But we take our job extremely serious and everyone down the line knows how important it is. If something got on base, I’d be devastated, like a parachute rigger whose parachute fails. So, we all have to be at 100 percent for every vehicle that comes through here.”
The Marines manning the ECP are constantly upgrading and implementing their defenses and the Base Defense Operations Center is constantly working to ensure their Marines have the gear they need to complete their mission.
“Our battalion supports us from platoon sergeant all the way up to the battalion commander,” said Jarvi, a Hancock, Mich. native and the Cobra team leader. “Anything we need or do, we get the support including mission essential equipment. They are always asking us what we need and making sure we are prepared.”
Paterson believes for the Marines guarding ECP 1, the best part of their job is knowing they are protecting the base and that the job has been done right.
“There will be nothing that gets through on this ECP,” said Paterson.