Photo Information

AR RAMADI, Iraq (November 20, 2005) - A Marine with 1st Combat Engineers Battalion patrols through a field after a controlled detonation during Operation Machete Nov. 20. During the operation, Marines found the largest weapons cache in more than six months. Photo by Cpl. Shane Suzuki

Photo by Cpl. Shane Suzuki

3/7 Marines discover weapons caches during Operation Machete

20 Nov 2005 | Cpl. Shane Suzuki

Marines from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, with support from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion and the local Iraqi Army unit, unearthed the largest cache of hidden insurgent weapons found by the unit near the Euphrates River Nov. 20. Operation Machete was a battalion-wide operation incorporating all four infantry companies and took place over four days. Early operations by Weapons Company and Scout Sniper Platoon, along with the improvised explosive device hunters of the Army’s Task Force Ironhawk, helped clear the way for the main effort of Machete, Company I.“It’s like stirring up a bee’s nest,” said Lt. Col. Roger Turner, the battalion’s commanding officer. “We are going out there to make them adjust to us, instead of us reacting to them. If we are going out there to draw fire from them, we are going to do it on our terms.”Operation Machete began in earnest the morning of Nov. 20 when Company I escorted and provided security for the combat engineers during their sweep of a large field near the Euphrates River in the northeast corner of Ar Ramadi. The Marines on site soon realized they were onto something special when, almost as soon they arrived at the search areas, engineers literally began tripping over hidden insurgent weapons caches. “I knew going out there that we would find something, but not that much,” said Lance Cpl. Jarrell Jones, a 22-year-old combat engineer from Lufkin, Texas. “When we first got to the search area, I actually tripped over a 155 (millimeter round.) We eventually found a lot of weapons – AK’s, RPG’s, and a lot of (improvised explosive device) materials. It was definitely the biggest find I’ve been a part of.” After Jones’s accidental find, the Marines began sweeping the area with their metal detectors and soon discovered barrels and bags full of rifles, artillery shells, grenades, books full of insurgent propaganda, detonation devices, black masks and other weapons and tools of the insurgency. “I figure we stopped a pretty big attack,” said Lance Cpl. Kyle Waldy, a combat engineer from Topeka, Kansas. “They had a lot of weapons down there ready to be used. This should put a pretty big delay in their IED-making schemes.” When the Marines felt they had exhausted the area, they began preparing the evidence for exploitation by Marine Corps intelligence units and for destruction on site. The materials not taken away for evidence were piled on the side of the road and destroyed by the engineers with C-4 explosives. The engineers found so many artillery rounds and acetylene tanks, both used for IEDs, they had to perform three controlled detonations at the first search area.“Most of the ordnance we blew in place,” said Waldy. “There was so much of it we ended up using approximately 45 to 50 sticks of C-4 to blow it all up.”After disposing of the explosives, the engineers began sweeping towards their next search area where they continued to find buried caches full of artillery rounds, assault rifles and ammunition. While the engineers were sweeping the northern half of the fields, Iraqi Army soldiers worked ahead of the engineers to clear any enemies or potential threats before the search party arrived. With the assistance of some Company I Marines, the IA soldiers found another cache buried close to the surface that had artillery rounds and empty propane tanks, often used as IEDs.When the search was called off, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers had found more than 120 artillery rounds, 40 rocket-propelled grenades, 60 assault rifles, and 25 sticks of explosives. “This is the largest find in more than six months in our area of operations,” said Cpl. Garrett Jaco, a rifleman working as the Company I intelligence representative. “It’s a lot of good stuff. We found IED and insurgent manuals, CD-ROM’s, film, a movie; all of which is very helpful.”Operations like Machete are rewarding for not only the Marines deployed here, but also good for the people of the city, said 2nd Lt. Anton Sattler, Company I executive officer. The local people know that the more weapons the Marines take out of the hands of the insurgents, the sooner they will have a peaceful and prosperous city. “I am pretty damn proud to be a part of this,” he said. “It’s great to go out for 14 hours and have something tangible to show for it. All the Marines were tired after the operation, but all of them came back with big smiles on their faces because they know they accomplished something big today. A find this big is going to have an impact, I think. It’s hard to say how big, but we know they are going to miss what we found.”For the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, finding caches such as this one can only help the overall mission of bringing stability and freedom to the long oppressed people of Iraq. With elections coming up in mid-December, operations like this let the townspeople know that the Marines and their Iraqi soldiers are making an impact on their lives for the better. “I think this find will improve the peoples’ confidence in the local government and in our abilities to protect them from the insurgency,” said Sattler. “The people still know that the bad guys are out there, but they don’t have the weapons to attack. This can only help us when election time comes around.”