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Marines find weapons caches 'well worth the effort'

17 Mar 2006 | 1st Lt. Nathan Braden

Searching for weapons caches in Iraq requires hard work, patience and an eye for details.

Marines from 1st Platoon, A Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion proved they have all of the above, plus a little extra.

“Every platoon has sort of developed a specialty since we’ve been out here.  For 1st Platoon, it’s discovering weapons caches,” said Capt. William J. Gibbons Jr., the 32-year-old A Company commander from Toms River, N.J.

First platoon has found more than half of the 60-plus weapons caches the company discovered since deploying to Al Anbar province in the fall of 2005.

The platoon chalked up several more finds March 15 while looking for caches north of Fallujah.

“We were given a search area, told to talk to people, get a feel for the area and look for caches,” said 1st Lt Matthew A. Ross, 26, 1st Platoon commander from Denver.

The platoon started the search at the break of dawn, moving out of the assembly in a dusty column.  The vehicles from 1st and 2nd section lurched purposefully towards the assigned search area.  Marines from the 3rd section left their vehicles at base camp and served as dismounts for the operation.

Searching for caches required dismounted Marines to walk for hours looking in, under, behind and on top of anything that looked suspicious.  In addition, Marines stopped by homes and spoke to residents. 

“It can be monotonous,” Ross said.  “It’s a slow and steady search, looking meticulously, but the Marines understand the importance of this mission.” 

Early into the day, 1st section discovered an AK-47 and two SKS assault rifles wrapped in plastic and buried about a foot beneath the surface of a small mound of dirt in a large field.

Around mid-morning, a crackle came over the radio.  Second section discovered 49 125 mm tank rounds and a hand grenade.  The Marines from the section discovered the munitions while searching near a well with metal detectors.

“We’ve found a lot of caches with these metal detectors,” said Staff Sgt. Jayme J. Gibbs, 27, the 2nd section leader for 1st Platoon from Campton, Ky.  “They’re good, we’ve found down to an individual small-arms round in a berm.”

The Marines used a combination of electronic metal detectors to aid them in looking for weapons. 

“We use a couple of different kinds,” Gibbs explained.  “Engineers have their own kind, but we also use off-the-shelf versions.”

Insurgents tend to bury caches around ground wells because they are easy reference points for finding them again and there tend to be easy escape routes away from the wells, Gibbs added.

“I like looking for caches because I’m hyper and I like to get out and work around and look for stuff.  When we find stuff it’s worth all that walking,” said Lance Cpl. Scott D. Bartow, 19, a crewman from Apex, N.C. 

Bartow discovered an entire anti-aircraft gun system the day before near a well using a metal detector. 

“I just wave the metal detector back and forth and listen for the beep,” Bartow said.  “It went off and I started digging.  I saw a wooden knob so I kept digging.” 

After the discovered tank rounds were laid out and counted, explosive ordnance disposal technicians were called out to reduce the munitions.

“The weapons caches are all used for IEDs, that’s their only purpose,” Gibbs said.  “We’ve been hit with enough IEDs to appreciate the fact that we are getting rid of some of them.” 

The platoon spent the rest of the day combing the search area.  Pvt. Curtis W. Simmons Jr., a 23-year-old from Gulfport, Miss., joked about spending the entire day walking the countryside looking for weapons caches.

“We were all going to join the infantry, but we figured they didn’t walk enough so we joined Amtracs,” he said.