|12-15-2004, 11:03 AM||#1 (permalink)|
U.S. Marine ( FAST )
Join Date: Sep 2004
2/24 Engineers clear area of weapons caches
Submitted by: 24th MEU
Story Identification #: 2004121493836
Story by Lance Cpl. Caleb J. Smith
FORWARD OPERATING BASE MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq (Dec. 11, 2004) -- Getting up well before sunrise and working until well after sunset constitutes a typical day for the combat engineers attached to 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, in northern Babil province.
Day after day, at any given hour, these Marines can be found sweeping through fields or searching houses looking for buried ordnance. Reservists from 4th Combat Engineer Battalion, based in Lynchburg, Va., work tirelessly to find and destroy weapons and explosives used against coalition forces.
“In the Marine Corps, it’s the job of the combat engineers to roll up with the infantry and find (armaments that the) insurgents seem Intent on hiding underground,” said Lance Cpl. William L. Champion, 20. “The spear of the insurgency has been attacks with roadside bombs, car bombs, and mortar fire. We sleep a little better at night because we know that every enemy mortar or artillery round we find is at least one Marine’s life saved.”
Through informant tips and Marine intelligence, these engineers have found thousands of weapons and explosives buried underground, sometimes within the span of just a few days.
“The first day on a foot patrol outside of FOB Yusyfiyah we found a slab of concrete lying on the ground, hidden behind a straw fence,” said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Davis, 23. Acting on suspicion, the engineers used what they call a hooligan tool to brake open the concrete.
Underneath they found a dug-in box containing rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s and other weapons. It was just the beginning of what would be a series of finds over the next week. The next day, the engineers made an even larger discovery next to an archeological site.
“We were told to search this particular sight because it was suspected to contain buried weapons and military supplies from Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said Champion.
The engineers trekked across a field hundreds of meters long, one step at a time, carefully observing the ground for anything suspicious.
This time it literally took “a step” to discover what lay beneath the surface.
“I was checking the ground around an area full of thick brush, when my ankle suddenly sank into a soft spot of dirt,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony L. Brown, 22, who’s known by his buddies for having a nose for buried weapons.
After sweeping the area and focusing on a few particular questionable spots, the engineers found boots, Saddam-era camouflage fatigues, Dragonov sniper rifles, RPGs, AK-47s, machine guns, rifle scopes, and many other Iraqi military supplies.
“It wasn’t just old regime stuff,” said Champion. “We found recently buried explosives like PE4, a clay-like plastic explosive, and long-distance car locks with 2,500 feet of detonation cord used for (vehicle-born improvised explosive devices), and other material dated after the fall of Saddam’s regime. We knew insurgents knew about the [Iraqi military] supplies and used the same site to bury their own materials.”
The next day the engineers found a similarly significant cache. “We swept the whole field, from beginning to end,” said Lance Cpl. Michael A. Davis, 23.
By the end of the day, combat engineers had unearthed 99 122 mm rockets. But their streak wasn’t over not by a long shot. On the fourth day they found yet another cache, one of the largest since their arrival in September.
“We didn’t think we were going to find much that day, having only found four 122 mm rockets,” said Brown. “We thought the day was going to end early.”
As they were about to head home, the engineers were called over to inspect a nearby house that had been owned by a suspected bomb maker.
“We were sure nothing was going to be at that house,” said Sgt. Thomas J. Fowler, 31, an engineer squad leader. “The IED maker had already been taken and detained. We swept the area around his house when we captured him.
What the Marines didn’t know was that an Iraqi informant, captured and detained by the Iraqi National Guard, had seen or had been a part of hiding weapons and explosives at that location, even after Marines had conducted their earlier raid on the house.
“I think they thought we’d never retrace our steps and come back,” said Fowler. “They may have even moved stuff there from other locations.”
A few hours later, with the help of the informant, engineers had found approximately 900 artillery and mortar rounds buried next to the house, as well as home-made metal racks used to fire rockets.
“Nine hundred arty rounds is 900 IEDs not on the road,” said Fowler.
Over four consecutive days, the Marines had rid the insurgency of possible supplies and well over a thousand possible roadside and car bombs in south-central Iraq.
“It was a long couple days,” said Davis. “After caches like these are found, you can see the results -- not as many IEDs or mortar attacks.”
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