SAQLAWIYAH, Iraq -- The sun had just risen over the farms outside the town here as Lance Cpl. Patrick Reynolds joined the Iraqi farmers in their morning trudge through the fields.
Although he too carried tools to commence the day’s labor, it wasn’t hay and alfalfa this Marine would reap today.
“We’re sweeping for weapons caches using metal detectors,” explained the 24-year old combat engineer with the Camp Lejeune, N.C-based unit, 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion. “The goal is to cover all this area and take away as many weapons from the insurgency as possible.”
On May 22, the Caldwell, W. Va. native and several of his fellow engineers assisted Iraqi soldiers and Marines from 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in culling through the farm fields outside Saqlawiyah, a town outside Fallujah.
Reynolds, a 1999 Greenbrier East High School graduate, and other engineers came equipped with AN/PSS-12 mine detectors for their field trip. They probed the ground with these metal detectors, and upon hearing beeps, dug up the earth to investigate for hidden weapons.
Additionally, the military personnel spoke with the local farmers and residents, asking if they knew of insurgent activity in the area.
“I love this part of it,” Reynolds stated. “This is my favorite part of the job, getting out here and finding weapons that we can take out of insurgents’ hands to save lives.”
Since arriving in Iraq in mid-March, the combat engineers have conducted several patrols and raids alongside their infantry counterparts. Everywhere they go, the engineers bring their mine detectors to search for concealed weapons.
“We go into the houses, and if the people have big stacks of blankets, we sweep through them with these (AN/PSS-12s),” Reynolds said. “It saves us the hassle of tearing stuff down. Afterward, we sweep through closets and every area of the house.”
Already, engineers in Saqlawiyah and Fallujah have discovered several caches of small arms, mortars, rockets, and materials used to construct improvised explosive devices.
Additionally, these Marines have helped the infantrymen construct two new operational headquarters throughout the area and fortify existing ones.
“We built up Alpha Company’s base by helping them put up concertina (protective) wire and Hesco barriers (wire cage barriers packed with dirt),” Reynolds explained. “We’ve fortified these bases to where they’re a safe place to be.”
Reynolds further said these missions are part of the reason he enlisted in the Marines as a combat engineer.
Another project the engineers are tackling is constructing wooden cages to hold air conditioning units and Marines’ field packs in their living spaces.
“I actually signed up more for the building part of this job, but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done so far,” Reynolds continued.
When not fortifying their unit’s bases and erecting furniture, the engineers are probing the fields and city streets for weapons caches.
Currently in Iraq, insurgents are hiding munitions and explosive materials underground to use against Coalition and Iraqi forces. Missions like the May 22 patrol through the farm fields allow Reynolds and his fellow Marines to counter this threat.
During this eight-hour long operation, the Marines and Iraqi soldiers found an AK-47 assault rifle and ten magazines, bundled up in a shirt underneath a palm tree.
According to 2nd Lt. Jared Towles, 2nd Platoon’s commander, Company A, the Iraqi soldiers’ support was essential in helping the U.S. forces gather intelligence on enemy activity in the area.
“From the very first person the Iraqi’s platoon commander talked to, we were able to get information on (a known insurgent’s whereabouts.)”
During their remaining months here, engineers like Reynolds will continue working alongside Marine infantry and Iraqi soldiers to keep Saqlawiyah and Fallujah free of insurgents.
The engineers will put in hours of hard labor underneath the scorching Iraqi sun, but Reynolds said he remains motivated nevertheless.
“The reason I joined the Marine Corps was to do this. Every day that we go out, the people see that we’re trying to do good for them, and that we’re here to help better their country.”