By JESSE HAMILTON
The Hartford Courant

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Most of Charlie Company is
assigned to the unit's downtown building, its base
from which it can pick fights with Fallujah's
insurgency and work to keep the main east-west
route through the city open to traffic.

But dozens of Marines from the Plainville-based
company have another job: keeping bad guys out
of Fallujah in the first place.

Charlie Company operates two of the city's
checkpoints, the entrances to Fallujah, which admit
only those residents who have the proper, U.S.
military-issued identification.

The Marines on the checkpoints supervise Iraqi
soldiers and police, who do the vehicle searches.
It's an important job for a city whose
once-powerful insurgency has partially recovered
from being chased out of town in the 2004 sweep
by Marines. But it's also a repetitive job,
monotonous and sometimes scorching hot.

At the western checkpoint, just across the
Euphrates River, 3rd Platoon is in charge.

The Marines stand long shifts on the pavement,
the midday sun turning the checkpoint into an
oven. Then they man night watch posts after
curfew - when those on the roads are either
breaking the rules or gripped by an emergency,
often trying to get to the nearby hospital.

The next day, they do the same thing all over again.

"There are not too many surprises," says Lance
Cpl. James R. Lauber, 20, from Waterbury.

It's not an easy task, and it does have its dangers.
Iraqi soldiers have been killed here by sniper shots.

But most of the Marines are anxious to get back to
the Civil-Military Operations Center in the heart
of the city.

The work there comes with more variety - patrols,
security, raids, psychological operations - and
more danger.

"Now that we've been [at the checkpoint] a month,
just about everyone's anxious to get out of here,"
says Lance Cpl. Timothy Huff, 24, from South
Windsor.

While they wait, they try to break up the time in
their palm tree-shaded compound on the river.
Most sleep beneath the overworked air
conditioners when they can. They watch movies,
throw darts and work out. Even nonreaders pick
up novels.

"I actually read a book out here. I haven't read a
book since my freshman year in high school," Huff
says, describing a Tom Clancy encounter.

And then there are the neighbors, a small group of
Iraqi soldiers who live next door. Some of the
Marines like to spend time with them, learning
what they can about the way people live in Iraq.

A few Marines join the Iraqis for a session of
hookah pipe smoking by the river, inhaling the
vapor-smoke of a non-narcotic fruit paste and
exhaling it in gray puffs into the breeze.

Huff is so taken by the ritual that he buys the
hookah from its Iraqi owner for $30. The Marines
bring it back to set it up on a table beside one of
their plywood barracks huts. They smoke and
laugh, attracting other curious Marines.

For a few moments, it becomes something new, a
way to forget that within hours, they will be back
out on the checkpoint, trying to get through
another day.
.