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On the Euphrates

HADITHA DAM, IRAQ: The company of Marines known as the Dam Security Unit are a unique bunch. The DSU is a one of a kind unit in the Marine Corps. They are primarily made of of reservists, almost 90% of them. And they come from units across the county; Texas, Florida, Virginia, Indiana and Mississippi. Naturally there were some snags in the beginning while integrating the disparate units, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them operate.

Their primary mission is to provide for security on the Haditha Dam. To acheive this, they conduct patrols and provide a quick reaction force on the river and lake. But the DSU is looking to expand its mission to support operations up and down the river.

Euphrates Riverine Environment

The Euphrates Riverine Environment.

Their boats are called Small Marine Riverine Craft, are 40 feet long by 10 feet wide, and are powered by twin souped up 440 horsepower racing engines. The SMRC can easily exceed 40 knots, and is both quick and highly maneuverable. Because it is jet driven and not propeller driven, the SMRC can go into waters as shallow as 9 inches. It holds a crew of five, and can carry up to thirteen Marines for an assault.

The boat packs some serious firepower to go along with its speed. It mounts two M240G machine guns forward, and either a .50 caliber machine gun at the rear, or a or a Mark 19 grenade launcher. The boat is also equipped to mount an electric powered gatling gun.

Small Marine Riverine Craft

Small Marine Riverine Craft.

The DSU company is commanded by Major Joe Cleary. I took a ride on the “Beefirm”, whose crew is Sergeant Kevin Firmin, the boat captain; Corporal Brandon Beebe, the cockswain; “Doc” Thomas Stein, the navy corpsman; Corporal Oleg Bakalashev, the .50 cal gunner; and Lance Corporals Joseph Finchum and Bryan Kay, the M204G gunners.

Sgt. Firmin speaks highly of his crew, “I have the three best gunners in the company. Cpl. Bakalashev is a sniper on the .50, and Kay and Finchum spray and pray. Cpl. Beebe can put the boat in any space” of the size of the boat.

The Crew of the Beefirm

The Crew of the Beefirm.

The sunrise patrol was on Lake Haditha, and consisted of four boats. The shoreline of the lake is largely barren of vegatation, making identifying potential threats more easily than on the river downstream of the dam. The morning patrol covered half the lake in in a little more than one hour. One fishing boat was searched and two Marines from another boat dismounted to the shore to search a suspicious tent. Sgt. Firmin unwisely allowed me to take the boat for a spin at the end of the patrol, and I can attest to the boat’s speed, power and quickness. We returned in one piece.

After completing the morning cruise, the boats were drawn up from the lake and loaded for transport for a three boat patrol downriver from the dam. The riverine environment downriver is markedly different than the lake. The banks are thick with reeds and palm groves, and the landscape was dotted with ancient aqueducts.

The area is ripe for ambushes by insurgents from the shore, and the DSU has taken fire from the banks in the past. Sgt. Firmin stated “the unit out here in the last rotation was in 38 firefights in 6 months.” Recent patrolling has been quiet.

Since the bridges have been taken out along the Euphrates during operations over the summer, boat traffic across the river has dramatically increased. The river is shallow enough it can be walked across in many places. A boat ride across the river can take less than 2 minutes, making patrolling the rivers vital for keeping insurgents from using this mode of transportation.

The afternoon patrol lasted for about one hour, with two trips up and down the river to a point just north of Haditha. It was another quiet patrol.

There is talk of disbanding the company in the near future. This would be a great mistake, as the riverine environment demands a presence on the river. Iraq is the Land of the two Rivers, and the River War is fought on the rivers as well as its banks.


The DSU is a great group.

It was funny to watch when the Commandant of the Marine Corps came out to visit us at the dam. He had recently decreed that the Small Boat Companies be disbanded. So, they changed the name to Dam Support Unit. When he visited we had to almost pretend that we didn't have any boats.

Their mission is to protect the dam. There was considerable consternation by the commander of 1/23, and even a little by us with 3/25 that they were severely restricted in their offensive operations.

The logic being that they are the primary defense of a tier one infrastructure and we can't afford to lose them. This makes a lot of sense, especially after they were sent down river without support a few times and got whacked. The river is a bit like a canyon in many ways to these boats, the enemy can hide in the reeds and palm groves, but the boats have to stay in the water.

I hope you can delete a few of the specs you list, especially concerning the draft. That would be very useful info for the enemy to know.

Great story, thanks Bill! The photos are really good too.

I'm impressed with this new site. The other posters here are also doing an excellent job.

Dear Bill,
Besides the great reading,
you really put a face on the
articles for your readers to see. And I know it makes the families of those who are serving, feel a little closer
to their loved ones.
Thank-you for your service.

Well written. A great window into the daily life of a unit of our proud Marines!

Bill, loved your article about the DSU and have passed it on to extended family supporting our son in the DSU, and to the Key coordinator serving the DSU contingent from Texas. Keep up the good work and keep your head down.

Bill you are walking where Abraham walked.

Joe N.

Cool! My son mans the .50 cal gun on another SURC at the Dam. I can't blow his blogospheric cover by telling you his name, but if you meet any other SURC crews, just ask if anyone knows a blogger called Cacciaguida, and see which one rolls his eyes! :)

N.B. I met Maj. Cleary at Camp Lejeune when my son finished training there. Very cool guy!

I can't blow his blogospheric cover by telling you his name, but if you meet any other SURC crews, just ask if anyone knows a blogger called Cacciaguida, and see which one rolls his eyes!

Or just ask if any of them can tell you the epitaph on Thermopylae in the original Greek, and watch for which one makes eye contact and gives you a very quick grin, instantly suppressed.

Major Joe Cleary is my nephew and I couldn't be prouder of him. God Bless you all and thank you for doing what you do.

Proud of each and every one of you. Your all in my prayers each day.

Thank you so much for giving me information on my brothers unit!!! I was so excited to see his boat, his extended 'family' over there and to know he's still trying to avoid getting his picture taken!!!! I miss 'doc' dearly. Hope he and his crew have a safe Christmas. WONDERFUL INFORMATIVE ARTICLE!

Thanks for the great article. I'm Sgt Firmin wife and I'm so proud of him and all of the guys. It is so wonderful to see his picture. Thanks for giving our Marines a face and a voice.

Thanks for the great article and pictures. My son is Sgt Firmin. I, too, am so very proud of him and all the guys who are serving with him. Thank you guys for your commitment to freedom.

Thank-you for telling the DSU's story. It's nice know what our friends and family are doing, and that they are ok. Sgt. Firmin is a close friend and we are extemely proud of what he and all our marines are doing.

Thanks for the great article and pictures. Sgt Firmin is my son in-laws brother. We are proud to have men like Kevin and his crew fighting for freedom, We are so very proud of him and all the guys who are serving with him. Thank you guys for your many sacrifices and commitment to freedom. We are praying for all of you everyday. Phil & Kathy Butler

I man the MK-19, not the 50, and I'm the only one in the company who does. It's a bit harder than the 50 when it comes to loading and clearing (and speaking of which, the stitches came out yesterday).

P.S. We thought you guys were from a news network or something, so when you weren't looking, one corporal assembled us in a room briefly and told us to be guarded in our language.

God Bless all of you in harms way. Remember we there are many pulling and praying for you.

Thanks for the news on the Marines that replaced the first and second SCCO platoon also known as DSU.
They spent 14 months patrolling the Euphrates and providing security for the dam. I am sure my son, a coxswain on the SURC '05 and the RAC'04 will be interested to know what is going on.
God Bless all the Marines.

My son just found this article and shared it with me. This is exactly what my youngest son is being trained for right now at Camp Lejuene. Thank you for sharing your time with the DSU it is helpful to see and read what it will be like for him when he gets there. God Bless.

This is GREAT, I am very proud to have Lonnie as one of my residents. My dad was in the Mariens for 22 years, and is nice to know that great people are doing what he did and loved for all the years he was in. I Love The Marines. God Bless

I just wanted to tell you thank you for posting this story. Cpl. Finchum is a very close friend of mine, if not my best friend. I found your site while doing a search on his name. Those guys over there surely do come from all walks of life and from all parts of the country and so many people only see them as soldiers but you write your article as if they are individuals. I thank you for that and praise them for the hard work. Also, Finchum, if you're reading this I hope you are having a wonderful time and I am praying for you and your wife.

Thanks for a great article. My son was with Small Craft and really liked the company.It should not have been disbanded.

I need the email addy for Capt.Hoffman at Haditha dam or anyone's email there so I can contact him,would appreciate it..

This was great to read. My fiance' is there now with DSU 2. Is there an article about them somewhere? Thanks so much!

Thanks Guys, it is sure a wonderful gift of freedom you are giving to all Americans, and I pray and send good wishes to all of our armned forces who protect and defend our freedoms for all, God Bless you and Keep you all safe. K. Semien