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Marine combat engineers keep vigilant of IEDs

3 Aug 2004 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

Most people try to avoid explosives in Iraq.  Gunnery Sgt. Sean P. Hanna hopes to trip over them.

He and his Marines from 3rd Platoon, Company B, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion spend their days criss-crossing Iraq, armed with metal detectors in one hand and a beacon device in the other.

"Nine out of 10 times we'll find stuff," said Hanna, the platoon sergeant for 3rd Platoon.  "They may not be big, big, huge caches, but we're consistent at finding weapons that can hurt us."

Hanna gives credit to the know-how of his Marines for being successful at discovering buried caches and improvised explosive devices.

"I'm not sure what we're doing to find weapons caches all the time, but I think it's just the experience of being here for almost six months," he explained. "We have a system of doing things, so the Marines see different things different days, like zero traffic on a road that usually has traffic flow."

The Marines work in teams, scouring roadsides and crop fields.  There are telltale signs that tip them off, but not always.

"If something looks out of the ordinary like soft dirt in a middle of a crop field, we'll start digging," said Cpl. Carlos Montalvo.

Sometimes, cache discoveries are found through subtle hints.  Property owners sometimes will walk out and greet Marines as to redirect them to search another location, but only give themselves away.

"Sometimes when we get close to something, the property owner will start acting weird or nervous," Hanna said. "That's just an indicator for us to keep looking."

"We'll sweep anything, but I enjoy it even though it's somewhat dangerous," said Lance Cpl. Jose M. Rios.

Rios made his biggest find during a sweep while attached to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, finding 12 IEDs all designed to detonate simultaneously.  It's called a "daisy-chain."  It's also that sort of success that makes Rios want to continue explosives work after he leaves the Marine Corps.

The work is tiring and monotonous.  Days are spent in full gear, sweating and probing.  Not every sweep turns up caches.  Still reports of Marines falling victim to IEDs only amplifies the need to rid the streets of potential threats.

"The hardest part is seeing young Marines die or get hurt," Hanna said.  "We're just tired of that."

"Every time we find something buried, it's a success," said Lance Cpl. Jared S. Treadway, a combat engineer with 3rd Platoon. "It feels good to find weapons."