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'I'd like to see the bigger picture'

Marine on the move has little time for questions

From Alessio Vinci
CNN

Lt. Drew Fanning
Fifteen sleepy Marines, including Lt. Drew Fanning, foreground, and two journalists are crammed into an armored vehicle on the move.

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In our "War Stories" series, CNN correspondents tell the story of war from the perspective of one person living through, recovering from or fighting the war in Iraq. Traveling with U.S. Marines in central Iraq, CNN's Alessio Vinci talks with Capt. Tim Newland about his unit's constant movement.

(CNN) -- "We will depart and set up our staging area in the city of Kalat Sukkar -- hard copy over," sounds the radio announcement.

It is a message U.S. Marine Capt. Tim Newland has heard many times. In other words: "Pack your gear and move your men as fast as you can."

Chasing remnants of the Iraqi 10th Armored Division and blocking key bridges over the Tigris River, Newland's unit has been zig-zagging across central and eastern Iraq for a week now.

"We have done more movement in this last week than I figured we would do the whole time over here," he says. "I'd like to see the bigger picture, I'd like to know ... why we had to travel 200 km that way, 200 km back, and now we go back again, I'd like to see the big picture."

Desert breakdowns can be deadly

The reality on the ground is that equipment cannot keep up with the hectic pace the war demands.

Marine Staff Sgt. George Insko points out wear and tear on the wheel of a tank. The tank, nicknamed "Death Mobile," is not that mobile anymore. Portions of the wheel are completely chewed up.

fox hole
Troops must dig foxholes at every stop.

"Our major concern is having a breakdown when we are in the middle of a firefight because we will be like sitting ducks, " he says. "The problem is the speed of the advance. If you can call it an advance running around in circles and not getting parts and not having enough time to do maintenance on the tanks."

The constant movement also takes a toll on the troops. At every stop they have to dig fox holes which takes hours.

"Holes... start the hole, stop the hole, start the hole again... keep going. I hate holes though," Marine Cpl. Christopher Morse says.

Hurry up and wait

Three hours before Newland's unit is to move, he and his fellow Marines must climb into their armored vehicles. "We have to move now so that we can make (our) timeline," he says climbing into what he jokingly calls his "limousine across Iraq."

Crammed inside are 15 Marines and two journalists waiting to begin a grueling journey across the Iraqi desert back to where they were 24 hours earlier. In the past week they have spent 60 hours on the road including five hours at refueling stops during which they stayed inside the armored vehicle with the engine running.

War can be exhausting even without a firefight.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.


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