IRAQ, somewhere South of Haditha Dam- The blue-green water of the Euphrates slips by at a healthy four knots as chirping from enemy AK-47s and the unmistakable thump of mortar rounds are heard in the distance. Insurgents lie in wait a few clicks from the green briar brush and palm fronds that line this part of the muddy bank. Now and then Black Hawk helicopters slice the night sky.
Downstream, two 35' diesel-powered Riverine Assault Craft (RAC) are on patrol, the din of their engines barely audible at 1500 rpm. The depth of the Euphrates here, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, is erratic-skinny water is everywhere. It's a challenge just to keep the combat-loaded, 16,000-pound boats off the bottom. Even with the firepower of .50-cal machine guns sweeping the shoreline, this is no place to run aground.
Hadithah dam is a high-value target, a main source of hydroelectric energy for much of the country. The 2nd Marine Division's Small Craft Company (SCC) is here to see that those turbines keep humming. The unit has been deployed almost from the beginning of operations in Iraq, taking part in waterborne recon, combat patrols, search-and-rescue missions, and island raids. As of this writing they've suffered no casualties, lost no lives. Luckily, tonight's patrol goes off without a hitch. But there's always tomorrow; after all, this is war.