BARWANAH, Iraq -- The Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company L, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment constantly search the palm groves and desert valleys here for insurgents and their weapon of choice … roadside bombs.
Leading one of the platoon’s fire teams during hunts for weapons caches is Woodland, Calif., native, Lance Cpl. Sam E. Smithson. His fire team, with the help of the squad, is responsible for finding at least eight different caches since arriving in the area.
In the last month, Smithson was part of two different operations, leading his Marines in finding many caches. His fire team also helped unearth the biggest cache ever found by the battalion, with thousands of pounds of ammunition and propellant.
“Finding these caches is helping to take down the insurgency around here piece by piece,” said Smithson, a 2003 Woodland High School graduate.
On Jan. 19, his team found a cache while sweeping the open desert looking for caves and valleys commonly used for hiding weapons. With no metal detector, his fire team used subtle indicators in the open desert to pick an area to dig and unearthed a cache containing more than 38 artillery rounds, often used in roadside bombs.
“We just saw tire tracks, some loose dirt and a pool of water in the corner and decided to start digging,” commented Lance Cpl. James Nankervis, Richmond, Va., native and a Marine in Smithson’s team.
As a fire team leader, Smithson is responsible for the Marines in his team and ensuring they make it back to their families safe. This responsibility is something the average 21-year-old doesn’t have to worry about.
“Even though he is a young fire team leader, he is very mature for his age,” commented Staff Sgt. John L. Lucero Jr., Smithson’s platoon sergeant. “He’s not only responsible for more than many other people his age, but he maintains that maturity level at all times.”
The combat experience from his first deployment to Iraq is one thing that helped him become a good leader and gave him the ability to teach younger Marines. During the Battle of Fallujah, Smithson and other Marines of the battalion experienced first hand all the training they received before deploying this time.
“It was a pretty big accomplishment, we got to experience a real battle and firefights,” Smithson said. “It is great to think that the Marines training for combat today are using experiences we had during that battle.”
His experience in Fallujah came a little more than a year after joining the Marines in October 2003. The thrill of going to war and the challenges the Marine Corps offered him were enough to postpone college for the life of a Marine infantryman.
“I just wasn’t ready to go to college,” Smithson added. “I had friends in the Marines and thought it was something I would like to do.”
Now on his second deployment since joining, Smithson has led his Marines in Operations Rivergate, Red Bull and currently Red Bull II. Although not quite as dangerous as his experiences last year, he has helped rid the “Triad” area (Barwanah, Haditha and Haqlaniyah) of insurgent operations and weapons that can no longer hurt Marines or innocent people in the region.