News: Apache Blanket covers Iraqi palm groves
DIYALA, Iraq – The palm groves of Mahudiya, Iraq, created an eerie setting on a Friday morning as U.S. Soldiers and Iraqi police from Hib Hib, made their way underneath a canopy of leaves, moving slowly in a single line, like a blanket being pulled over a sleeping child.
Small patches of sunlight snuck in through the gray clouds between periods of light rain. The vegetation was saturated after a downpour the previous night, soaking the men as they moved through it checking every piece of land, looking for weapons as part of Operation Apache Blanket conducted by 3rd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, April 23.
"Indirect Fire and improvised explosive devices are now a fairly high priority given that there has been an increase of attacks in this area, including rockets launched from the palm groves," said 1st Lt., William Horan, 3rd platoon leader, Apache Company, 1/23 Inf.
According to Horan, an individual was detected by surveillance running in these palm groves in the pitch black of night.
"We thought it was weird, and kind of suspicious so we went and checked it out," said Horan. "We wanted to make sure there wasn't any kind of weapons cache there."
Also participating in this joint operation with Apache Company Soldiers and Hib Hib police were the 18th Engineer Company, Task Force 296, 3 SBCT, 2nd ID and military working dogs from Warhorse kennels.
The engineers brought out metal detectors to sweep between the trees, trying to identify potential buried munitions, while the dogs sniffed around using their heightened sense of smell to detect even the slightest hint of gunpowder or explosives.
"A human can't smell a bomb," said Staff Sgt. Curtis Hay, a military police military working dog handler for Warhorse kennels. "I can send that dog out there 100 yards away from me and he can tell me what's out there without me going in the kill zone."
These military working dogs are a mission essential factor in clearing operations, not only for detection, but to serve as another battle buddy, watching out for Soldiers.
"It's a way of saving peoples' lives," said Staff Sgt. Hay. "I love that dog, but it's better to have him out looking for a bomb than a Soldier."
The search party proceeded cautiously, never knowing what awaited them with every step.
"You got to be careful out there, always looking around, you never know when you find something if it may be booby-trapped or not," said Spc. Michael Pichotta, a fire team leader for 3rd Platoon.
After the length of the palm grove was searched, no weapons were found, but signs of suspicion were.
"We found a bag, similar to a sandbag, that was folded neatly and buried," said Horan. "I know from past experiences that these are used to carry mortars, and it's weird that someone would hide a bag."
Spc. Michael McQueen, an automatic rifleman for 3rd Platoon, was on his tenth clearing operation with Operation Apache Blanket.
"It's disappointing to go through all that trouble and not find any weapons," said McQueen. "At least we know these groves are clear now."
The Tomahawk Soldiers of Apache Company will continue to perform clearing operations as part of their partnership with ISF in the area around the city of Khalis.
Horan said that despite the recent increase in attacks, they are still considerably lower than they were two years ago.
"This tells me, along with the fact that we aren't finding much on these clearing operations, that we have almost cleared Iraq of weapons caches," said Horan.
Date Posted:04.25.2010 12:08
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