RAWAH, Iraq -- The Marines of 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 2, affectionately nicknamed ‘The Highlanders,’ kicked off Operation Cave Dweller on June 1, 2007, in the western Euphrates River valley.
The operation covered several areas, which were flagged by the battalion for investigation, on both the north and south sides of the river.
“We went out to search different cave systems and suspected cache sites, looking for present caches or possible places where there could be a cache in the future,” said Sgt. Alfredo Gonzales, a scout with the battalion.
The operation included several units from throughout the battalion, including: Company C, security forces, jump platoon, and the military working dogs.
“We went out to areas of interest and conducted dismounted patrols through the desert’s hills, cliffs, and rocks,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel Venegas Jr., a battalion scout.
The Marines mapped out all the caves they found, and searched the ones that were large enough to fit into. In some cases the caves were so large they couldn’t be searched; the Marines didn’t even flinch in these situations. They used explosives to safely detonate the entrances, so the cave systems couldn’t be used to store anything in the future.
“We found some deep caves that an average sized man would have no problem getting into and walking around in, those are the ones we were most worried about. We got some pictures of them and their grid locations just in case we need to reference them in the future,” said Gonzales, a native of Adelanto, Calif.
While searching through the caves, one group came across a cache which housed 30 pounds of explosive material and a 57mm rocket.
“I think we find something on just about every mission we go out on. I’d say that’s pretty successful,” said Gonzales.
While searching through the seemingly endless desert, it wasn’t uncommon for the Marines to find themselves climbing steep rock cliffs, crawling through tight caverns, or walking down a dry riverbed.
“It might seem a little tedious, and its definitely tiring being in the sun all day, but you have to remember we are out here to prevent terrorists and murderers from killing our brothers and friends,” said Venegas, a San Antonio native. “It is imperative that we take away their stuff, whatever it might be, and any possible place they may want to use to store it in the future.”