CAMP ELLIS, Iraq -- Explosive Ordnance Disposal Marines attached to the California-based Battalion Landing Team 2nd Marines, 4th Marine Regiment have supported current operations in the Barwanah area by disposing of weapons and explosives found in caches throughout the area.
To date, EOD has disposed of more than 2,000-plus pounds of weapons and explosives since operations began here in late November.
According to Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Salyi, EOD chief from Combat Logistics Battalion 15 attached to BLT 2/4, the weeks in Barwanah have not slowed much since the beginning of operations.
Though the weapons caches have become smaller due to the efforts of Marines on sweeping operations, calls still come in on a daily basis keeping Salyi and his Marines busy.
Salyi explained, even though the caches being found are smaller, they are new. What this means for Marines working in the area is the amount of weapons and explosives that would be used by anti-Iraqi forces are being depleted.
“I’d say overall the weeks haven’t really slowed down for us. The quantity of calls we’ve done have declined, but we still go out nearly every day. Usually the stuff that we find is minimal now. But it is new, meaning it has recently been brought into this area,” said Salyi, a San Diego, native.
A typical cache usually consists of some type of ammunition, usually for an AK-47 assault rifle, the most commonly used weapon of AIF. Aside from ammunition, rifles and munitions such as mortar and artillery rounds are typically found, said Salyi.
Long range cordless phones are another item has been found in several of the caches throughout the area. These give insurgents the ability to detonate improvised explosive devices from remote locations, he said.
Though IEDs and weapons caches are common, the way the weapons are being employed has changed dramatically, Salyi said. Believing that the AIFs surplus of weapons are being used up, and with the IED builders being captured or leaving the area, many of the items being found recently have been imported into the region by new AIF personnel.
“This area has matured greatly in the planning and ability to employ IEDs. Now, they don’t have the ordnance left or the people to manufacture them. But what they are getting into this area of operations and what they are able to do has changed dramatically,” said Salyi.
“We have found IEDs that were wired to accept two form of initiation, electric blasting caps for pressure plate (IEDs) and a tail of detonating cord primed in to the nose, so they could use that in conjunction with a land mine to enhance the explosion. The part that makes this significant is that no one has seen those here before,” said Salyi.
The average size cache here, according to Staff Sgt. Daniel Thibeault, an EOD Marine with CLB-15 in support of BLT 2/4, is typically about 100 pounds of explosives or ordnance. The largest cache that he recalls destroying consisted of approximately 1,100 pounds.
“The biggest one we’ve (destroyed) was about 1,100 pounds which was located south (of here) and with the high explosive we put on it, it was about a 1,400 pound shot,” he said.
Having been on more than 80 calls, Thibeault explained, the first weeks were busy. But due to their arduous work, a sizeable dent has been made in the amount of weapons and explosives being found.
“We’ve done four or five missions in one day, but it just depends on the day (that dictates) how busy you are,” said Thibeault, a Lewiston, Maine, native. “I mean, whenever the phone rings we’re wondering ‘are we going or not.’”
The EOD carries an array of tools to ensure the job gets done right and done safely, explained Thibeault. Loaded down robots, explosives, a bomb suit and a sniper rifle, the team has several options on hand to deal with each situation as necessary.
For Thibeault, the job is relatively safe approximately 50 percent of the time. Most of the time when he and the rest of the team are called out, it is simply to destroy a cache of weapons. It’s not until the occasional IED is found the job becomes tricky.
“The scary part is when it comes to IEDs. I’m not going to lie. I don’t like going on the IED calls much. But as long as we get there and do a thorough search of our area, then it’s a relatively safe environment because anything we do to that IED is going to be done remotely,” said Thibeault.
BLT 2/4 is currently deployed to Iraq as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and has been operating in the Barwanah area since late November.