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Marines take a new look at logging

14 May 2004 | Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

Forget about all those tales about lumberjacks wearing plaid, wielding axes and yelling "timber."

They really yell "Get down!" and wear digital desert camouflaged uniforms.  No axes either.  Trees fall with C-4 plastic explosive.  They don't take too kindly to being called lumberjacks.  They prefer "Marine."

Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment took a swing at logging in their own particular way recently when they cleared date trees for fields of fire.  The Marines, assigned to 1st Marine Division for Operation Iraqi Freedom, used the mission as a chance to show off just what a few well-placed demolitions can do.

"We got mortared from that direction, and we could see the guys doing it, but those date trees were in the way," said Sgt. Stephen H. Barclay, 24, a combat engineer from Duvall, Wash.  "We were tasked to fix the problem in order to open up the fields of fire from that side of the camp.  C-4 was the perfect solution."

The engineer explained that C-4 is a cutting explosive, whereas dynamite is a pushing explosive.

"C-4 will cut into what you put it up against, instead of pushing it with force like dynamite does," Barclay said.  "That makes it good for cutting trees."

Three sticks of the explosive material were placed on many of the 20-foot-tall trees in the grove, hooked together with detonation cord to synchronize the blast.

"The hardest part about a mission like this is making sure the amount of 'demo' you're using has been properly calculated," said Lance Cpl. Justini A. Tatum, a 20-year-old combat engineer from Corpus Christi, Texas.  "Too much, it could destroy more than you intend it to. Too little, and you won't get everything done."

He added that another crucial part is synchronizing the blast so it all goes at one time.

"We were out there for about two hours setting it all up, with guys providing security in case the guys who mortared us came back," he added.

The best part about the whole mission, Tatum said, was the final product.
"The best part of my job is the product... seeing stuff go boom," he said, smiling.

Barclay explained the tree-clearing mission was more than a unique opportunity to apply their trade.  It was also a chance to show the infantrymen they support the value they bring to the fight.

"We've cut down trees before, but never this many," Barclay said.  "This is definitely the first logging operation we've been involved in."

Once the charges were set, the Marines in the camp were warned to clear the wall near the grove and find cover.  Still, some pulled out cameras, taking the chance to capture the engineers in action.

Lance Cpl. Jeff L. Saddler climbed on top of his amphibious assault vehicle to gain a better vantage point.  The 21 year-old crewman from Colby, Kan., only had one thing to say when the charges blew, severing the trees from their trunks.

"That was awesome!" he said.