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Lance Cpl. Jonathan B. McKee scans the distant horizon on the edge of the Cobra Team's area of responsibility at Al Asad, Iraq, April 27. McKee is a machine gunner with the Cobra Team, Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 109th Mechanized Infantry, Marine Wing Support Squadron 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. He is a native of Waynesboro, Miss.

Photo by Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Entry Control Point, first line of defense for vehicle traffic entering Al Asad

3 May 2006 | Lance Cpl. James B. Hoke

Waves of heat blur the details out of the sandy road stretching off into the distance, as several Marines remain alert behind their crew-served weapons and surveillance positions.

The Entry Control Point 1 falls under Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 109th Mechanized Infantry, Marine Wing Support Group 37 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

The ECP-1 Marines are responsible for ensuring all personnel coming aboard Al Asad, Iraq, are properly searched for contraband, weapons or other threats to service members on the base.

"Our main mission in processing vehicles is to make sure they are clear of weapons, any type of explosives or contraband items as they come through the gates," said Pfc. Hunter L. Schoot, machine gunner, ECP-1. "We get local nationals, Iraqi police and Iraqi military through here. They all have to go through the same process."

According to Lance Cpl. Eric M. Clark, machine gunner, ECP-1, they search every vehicle and person coming aboard from physical searches to X-ray machines.

"We check for bombs," said Clark, a 22-year-old native of Illion, N.Y. "We take all of their weapons from them. We make sure they don't have any knives or other melee objects.

"Anything that can be perceived or used as a weapon, we try not to let them have it on the base," he added. "Anything that is not allowed on base, we do not let them bring it on."

Although the list of threats to look for on approaching vehicles and persons is towering, and the weapons accumulated each day are returned to the individuals when they depart the base, the Marines at ECP-1 usually have an average of three vehicles to scan per day.

"We had two vehicles today," said Cpl. Charles W. Kolpack, drop arm assistant noncommissioned officer-in-charge, ECP-1. "I'm not going to expect anymore. Yesterday, we had five vehicles. The most I've seen is eight, but we've gone two days before without getting any vehicles. So, it is fairly random."

Most of the traffic trying to gain access are local nationals who offer their services on base.

"We get a lot of regulars," said Clark, a graduate of Illion High School. "Whenever we see a vehicle that we don't recognize is when we start making sure everyone knows exactly what's going on."

According to Kolpack, a 23-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., vehicles approaching the entry control points give the Marines an adrenaline rush every time.

"For a guy like me who has been in an office for most of his Marine Corps career, it is good to get out here and do the things I haven't done before," said Kolpack, a graduate of Frontier High School. "It's just the danger aspect. Every time a vehicle comes up, we have everyone in place with everything set up. It's a rush."

The entry control point also has another group of Marines -- the Cobra Team -- patrolling the outside perimeter of the base, ensuring that any threats observed outside are intercepted.

"Our mission out here is to protect ECP-1 and ECP-2," said Sgt. Steven Gaytan, cobra team commander, Echo Company. "We stop any threats that we perceive before it gets to them.

"I think it's a great impact that we have," added Gaytan, a 27-year-old native of Chicago. "Any activity that we have out here, we intercept it before it gets anywhere near them. We are the first ones out there."

For the Marines at ECP-1, who have been thoroughly scanning incoming local nationals, Iraqi police and Iraqi military for the past three months, having this particular job allows them to meet a lot of people from this country.

"It is pretty interesting," said Schoot, a 21-year-old native of Atlanta. "You learn a lot about their cultures out here."

According to Gaytan, a graduate of De La Salle High School, when the Marines check the Iraqis out of their vehicles or have road blocks, they get to interact with them and see, first hand, the differences between our culture and theirs.

"Some of us have rank insignias and some of us don't, because they know our rank structure," said Gaytan. "They know who the officers are and see the ones who don't have a rank insignia. They'll open up more to the Marines not wearing rank."

Although the jobs associated with ECP-1 have the Marines filling roles different than what they performed in the states, they all seem to enjoy it.

"We are all from the air wing," Clark concluded. "We all work at various squadrons at Miramar and Yuma. It's something different than what we are used to. Instead of working with electronics all day, we get to play grunt for a little while, and I like it."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing