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Recon Marines find buried treasure in enemy sniper rifle

15 May 2006 | Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva

No one is ever going to tell Cpl. Patrick A. Diener not to kick rocks again.  The 24-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., was kicking at some loose soil when he turned up a buried insurgent sniper rifle.

Diener, assigned to B Company, 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 5, was on a “knock-and-talk” patrol in this rural area south of Fallujah when he made the find.  It was the end result of patience, careful questions and a stroke of luck.

“I looked around to see if I could stir something up,” Diener said.  “It was the third hole I checked out at that site and it looked like something could be buried there.”

Diener dug at the ground with the toe of his boot until he uncovered a smooth, black plastic surface.  He knew he had a weapons cache.

“I saw a bag inside and pulled it out and it was the rifle wrapped up,” Diener said.

Specifically, it was a modified Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle.  It had a scope mounted on top and a crudely-fashioned sound suppressor over the barrel.  For the small team of reconnaissance Marines, many of whom are trained snipers, it was an important find.

“It’s important for me,” Diener explained.  “We don’t have much to work with, so for a recon team to eliminate a sniper rifle from the fight, it’s an accomplishment.”

The cache discovery was the result of a day’s worth of work.  Marines set out to patrol the area, gathering information.  After several stops, one local Iraqi spoke of seeing men digging in a nearby farm field.  Marines moved into the area based on that tip.

“Sometimes, it feels like we’re playing CSI,” said Sgt. Aaron C. Torian, a reference to the TV show about crime scene investigations.  “Sometimes it’s more of a gut feeling.  Everything here happens in the shadows.”

Torian, the 28-year-old team leader from Paducah, Ky., led his Marines to the area only to find they recently passed it earlier.  They couldn’t see most of the area, though, because of overgrown reeds in a canal. 

“When we walked by the first time, we saw only one male,” Torian explained.  “When we came back everyone was gone.  The family that was left didn’t even look at us.”

Torian reached into the black cylinder and wrapped his hand around the end of the rifle, wrapped in the burlap sack.

“As soon as I felt it, I knew,” he said.  “I felt the scope.  It’s a big prize for our snipers.  For them, that’s a trophy.”

Torian said the find was the result of diligence and finding the patterns by which insurgents operate in this region. 

“It’s not a lazy man’s game,” he explained.  “It’s like chess.  It takes a lot of moves to get to where you want.”

It’s long, monotonous work for the reconnaissance Marines.  They’ll patrol areas for hours on end, turning up empty on nearly every turn.  It’s frustrating at times, but every weapon they find is one less that can be used against them.

“You go out for 10 days of boredom and its 10 minutes of excitement,” said Cpl. Scott Ostrom, a 21-year-old from Plantation, Fla.  “Right about the time you want to give up, you find something.  It keeps you going.

“It would be better to kill the dudes,” Ostrom added.  “You see the insurgent videos and it makes you feel good to get rid of those weapons.”

Diener said he couldn’t be sure if the rifle was accurate or even effective.  Still, he said getting the rifle out of the insurgents’ hands was the important part.

“You constantly put yourself our there,” Diener said.  “Even though it’s a little find, it’s one more rifle out of the fight.”