AL ASAD, Iraq -- Driving through miles of seemingly endless desert, many hours have passed and exhaustion has begun to set in.
At one of the largest military installations in Iraq, patrolling around the perimeter of the air base here is no easy task, yet the Marines safeguarding its boundaries remain constantly watchful and take their job seriously.
In a combined effort, reservists from Company P, 5th Battalion, 14th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, based in Spokane, Wash., have been joined with 4th Low-Altitude Air Defense Battalion, Security Battalion, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, to accomplish the mission of protecting Al Asad.
With a constant threat from anti-Iraqi forces, Marines here conduct non-stop patrols that cover a wide radius in every direction around the outskirts of base.
"Doing a patrol around base keeps a buffer between us and the enemy," said Guiana, South America, native Staff Sgt. Leon C. Pilgrim, platoon sergeant, Company B, 4th LAAD Bn. "The further we can keep them from the base, the safer we are."
Performing patrols day and night, each Marine on the patrol is required to be extremely observant of their surroundings.
"The most important thing I tell my Marines before each patrol is to stay alert," said Pilgrim. "You never know what's going on out there, so you have to be prepared for anything."
Marines conducting vehicle patrols or standing guard duty often have to combat the unseen adversary of complacency, caused by the monotony occasionally encountered during missions.
"Not seeing anything out there is almost worse than seeing something," said Pilgrim. "You can sometimes catch yourself becoming complacent, but you need to snap out of it. Just because there wasn't anything out there today doesn't mean there won't be tomorrow."
A policeman in Atlanta, Pilgrim has had a lot of experience in dealing with security.
"My job as a police officer translates to my security duties out here," said the 33-year-old. "When I have to conduct a search it comes like second nature."
A single patrol can last for hours, so the day before the patrol the Marines involved receive a full brief of the next day's events.
"Everyone shows up for the brief because it's so important," said 21-year-old Spokane, Wash., native, Cpl. Jeremy C. Greenfield, forward observer, Company P. "We get the who, what, where and why of the mission."
Normally functioning as an artillery unit, the reservists from Company P didn't quite expect to be conducting patrol missions here.
"When I first did a patrol I was a little nervous because I didn't know what to expect," said 21-year-old Greenfield. "Now I'm more familiar with what we're doing, and when I go out there, I'm never worried because we've all had the proper training."
Building and maintaining trust between the Marines in a unit has always been an important part of every mission and patrols are no exception.
"When I'm out there I'm confident in myself and the Marines next to me," said Greenfield. "As long as you relax and think about what you're doing, you'll be fine."
With such a large responsibility on their shoulders, it is imperative that the Marines of Company P maintain a vigilant and upbeat mindset.
"Marines can easily get stressed out here doing this job," said Curlaw, Wash., native, Lance Cpl. Haden E. Barkley, field artillery cannoneer, Company P. "The biggest challenge is staying focused and positive," finished the 21-year-old fulltime student at Whitworth College in Spokane, Wash.