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FALLUJAH, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Thomas Heinzelman, combat engineer team leader with 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, uses his AN/PSS-14 mine detector to look for concealed threats while helping the infantrymen of Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment fortify their new base of operations here May 10. The 21-year-old Twin Falls, Idaho native and his team build base fortifications and search for hidden munitions to help root out the remaining insurgency here.

Photo by Cpl. Mike Escobar

Buried bombs to building bunkers: Idaho Marine’s team does it all

18 May 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar

For millennia, the vast expanses of the Arabian deserts have enticed adventurers to do everything from running horse races to seeking out treasures. Lance Cpl. Thomas Heinzelman also looks for hidden caches underneath the Iraqi sands, but it’s not gemstones and genie lamps the 21-year-old Twin Falls, Idaho, native expects to find. “We’re sweeping lanes here for land mines and improvised explosive devices so the Marines can lay out concertina wire to secure the base,” said the combat engineer team leader with the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, as he swept his mine detector across some railroad tracks. The 2002 Filer High School graduate referred to his team’s role in helping out their infantry counterparts as they conduct security and stability operations here. On May 10, Heinzelman and fellow engineers continued to fortify a base of operations infantrymen from Company C, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment recently established in an abandoned railroad station here. Part of this mission included sweeping the surrounding fields and tracks for any mines old Iraqi or insurgent forces laid throughout the area during previous years. To accomplish this, Heinzelman and his crew use their AN/PSS-14 mine detectors, a metal detecting device equipped with ground penetrating radar capabilities. Once it detects metal, the machine emits a series of beeps, producing what engineers call a ‘sound image’ of the object beneath. As Heinzelman’s mine detector passed over the railroad tracks, fellow engineer Cpl. Dennis Potter followed closely to mark the cleared terrain with spray paint tick marks. Mine sweeping is all part of helping the infantrymen fortify their base of operations. The engineers also lay out wire around the perimeter, along with Hesco brand pre-fabricated barriers, which are wire cages lined with canvas that, when filled with dirt, create a barricade. These measures help prevent enemy infiltration and protect Marines from direct fire, explosions and shrapnel. The combat engineers improve not only the camp’s perimeter, but also the building interiors. Heinzelman’s unit built makeshift wooden-door, locking mechanisms and repaired holes in walls inside buildings here. These improvements help fortify structures damaged during previous conflict. Even after a day’s construction is done, the engineers’ work has just begun. “We’ve been going on a lot of raids, sweeping for weapons every time we do,” Heinzelman explained. During these missions, he and fellow Marines also help provide area security and clear the target building of insurgents. Once safe, the engineers break out their metal detectors and begin scouring the property for hidden weapons caches. “It’s rewarding when you find weapons caches, like mortars, rockets, and IED making material,” he said. “It’s good to find all the things the insurgents use against American and Coalition forces.” Heinzelman and his team continue helping the infantrymen of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines root out the remaining insurgency here. As they perform their daily labors, the engineers are erecting more than barricades; they are helping build a brighter future for the residents of Fallujah.