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Marines here use age-old method to track modern threat

3 Oct 2004 | Cpl. Randy Bernard

For service members operating in Iraq, incoming mortars and rockets are a regular occurrence.  Marines here use an age-old method to help track this modern threat.

They use simple techniques and geometry to trace the incoming rounds back to their origin. In fact, Staff Sgt. Jesse S. Esterly, the fire support chief for Regimental Combat Team 7, uses a golf club, broom handle and a compass.

"When there is an impact, it is like detective work to try and find it," said Esterly, 29, from Reading, Pa, "We will start driving toward the area where it was heard or seen, asking people along the way if they saw where it hit."

Once the crater analysis team finds the general area where a rocket or mortar hit, which sometimes leads them to the middle of nowhere, they look for differences in the color of the sand, broken glass from nearby buildings and shreds of metal or pieces of the rocket.

Once the crater is found, the team then determines the direction of origin by observing the shape of the impact. Then they will dig down around where the round entered the ground, and use a straight stick, or in this case, a golf club, to mark the round. Another stick will be placed in the middle of the blast-area, marking the center. 

The Marines use a compass to line up the two stakes, and the direction from where the round came from is recorded.  Lastly, the Marines will use a global positioning system to mark the location of the impact on a map, and the direction from which it came. 

The Marines performing a crater analysis are typically familiar with artillery.  The Marines will apply their knowledge of how far particular rounds can travel, and plug that into their equation.  They now have a maximum and minimum effective range of the particular weapon, and a direction from which the round came. 

With this information plotted on a map, they now have a pretty good idea of where the enemy fire is coming from.

"When we went out to one of the sites, we found rockets that hadn't been fired," said Esterly.  "Either the guy firing them got scared off, they were duds or they were set with timers and hadn't gone off yet."

Even though they hadn't caught the enemy, their efforts very well may have saved lives.

"The crater analysis process gives you an idea of what the enemy's capabilities are," said Pfc. Robert W. Goodman, 26, a native of Skiatook, Okla., a crater analysis team member and the communications chief for Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. "It's pretty basic, but it is fairly accurate.  As long as you know what kind of round it is, you can determine a point of origin."

Although there is radar to help identify incoming threats here, Esterly says that their skills are still essential to the mission.

"We do crater analysis to stay familiar with it," said Esterly. "There may not always be radar available to us, so we keep doing it to keep ourselves ahead of the game."