BAGHDADI, Iraq -- The streets here were recently filled with the presence of Marines during a sweeping operation along the Euphrates river.
Six Marines with 1st Combat Engineer Battalion working with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 2, stood out in the crowd as the backbone of the operation, which lasted two days.
“The operation has two parts,” said Lance Cpl. Jose M. Pineda, a combat engineer. “We are here to sweep the palm groves and the local villages, and support the Iraqi Army, who is also participating in the sweep.”
The combat engineers, led by Cpl. Luis J. Rodriguez, instead of remaining in the trucks, left their vehicles and jumped into the action early in the operation.
“We were basically ‘on call’ for this operation and were supposed to support the Iraqis only if needed,” said Rodriguez. “We wanted to get down with the patrols and find some caches, so we decided to give the Iraqis a closer hand.”
Though the landscape consisted of everything from dense brush to rocky cliffs, no spot went untouched by the metal detectors as the engineers swiftly covered vast amounts of terrain. It was in a stretch of muddy farmland that a loud “beep” could be heard from an alerting device carried by the engineers. There was metal in the ground, and they were determined to find out what it was.
“When the detectors go off, it is straight adrenaline going through you,” said Pineda. “You become eager to find it, and can not wait to retrieve it.”
The call was given, and an engineer slammed his shovel into the ground. The dig was fruitless after a few minutes when irrelevant pieces of metal were found. It was time to keep moving.
The patrol was then met with dense palm groves. The locals proved themselves helpful to the Marines, and gave them a warm welcome to the area.
“The area has changed greatly,” Rodriguez remarked. “They are now helping us with information, and kicking the insurgents out themselves.”
The engineers spent time with members of the Iraqi Army, teaching them tactics in sweeping for improvised explosive devices, and ways to defend themselves from the insurgents.
“We’ve taught them how to sweep pretty well and utilize the resources that they have,” Pineda said. “We have also taught them survivability, such as how to build fortified positions, and bunkers.”
The Marines and Iraqi Army spotted the end of the sweep, which was marked by a large area of cliffs, and a sigh of relief was heard. It had been two days of continuous walking with loads of gear for them, and it was now over.
The sweep turned up no caches, but Rodriguez felt this was a sign of a good future for the area.
“We’ve swept this place before, and we found things,” said Rodriguez. “Now, we come back much later, and find nothing. I think we are definitely accomplishing the mission.”