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Engineers get creative on the battlefield

4 Apr 2006 | Cpl. William Skelton

A new tool could be the answer to locating caches in the sands of Iraq. Combat engineers created a new device to help them locate weapons buried in the dirt.

It’s a simple three-foot pole.  It’s just about the perfect tool for Marines – not very technical and tough to break.

“I read in a report that Iraqis were using a metal pole to locate caches buried in the dirt,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Guide, the 30-year-old combat engineer officer from San Clemente, Calif. “I went off their idea and had our Marines try our version of the probe out too.”

With the word from the lieutenant, the engineers were hard at work coming up with a design of the tool. The Marines put their ingenuity and their new probe into action during Operation Hastings.

“Operation Hastings combines our Marines with soldiers from the Iraqi Army,” Guide said. “The Iraqis provided perimeter security for us while we searched for weapons caches.”

But the test-bed idea, borrowed of Iraqi know-how, was happening in the middle of it all.

The pole is about three feet in length and has a six inch handle at the top. Approximately a foot from the pointed tip of the bottom, a six-inch step sticks out from the side to help the Marines press the probe into the soil.

“The basic function of the probe is to check to see if we are hitting something hard or are just hitting trash under the soil,” said Pfc. Jose M. Pineda, a 21-year-old from Dallas.

That’s a serious concern here.  The landscape of Iraq is laden with trash. The probe is designed that if you hit something firm, you stand more of a chance that you’ve found a cache. 

“We just don’t go around poking the dirt everywhere,” said Lance Cpl. Gabriel H. Garza, a 19-year-old electrician from Willcox, Ariz. “We use the metal detector to find areas where metal is under the surface of the soil.”

The Marines probe the dirt after locating an area where the metal detectors get a hit. Once the Marines have probed the area and found an object, they dig it up.

“One of the Marines in our platoon found a cache that the mine detector missed,” Garza said. “It was pretty lucky, but it proves the probe is useful.”

During the operation the engineers located more than 15 weapons caches. Most of the finds were due to the diligence of the Marines, but the new device seemed to pay off.

“The probe is working out pretty well,” said Gunnery Sgt. Anthony J. Easton, the 30-year-old platoon sergeant from Saint Cloud, Minn. “It makes for less shoveling because it helps us avoid the trash.”

So far, Marines were satisfied with their contraption.  They have plans to fine tune it a little more and make it a little easier to use, but the idea seems to be sticking.  Guide believes it will be something the engineers will be using in the future.

“We will more than likely refine it a little,” Easton said. “We’ll probably reinforce it and lengthen it a little.”

The probe proved its worth during the operation, Garza said. Even though it’s a little extra weight to carry the Marines bear the burden to keep weapons out of the hands of the insurgents.

“It’s definitely something the Marines are going to be using for the rest of the deployment,” Guide said. “Using it along side the metal detectors, it proves to be effective.”