Buried Treasure - 1-77 Armor finds weapons caches, keeps Anaconda safe from attack
By Pfc. Abel Trevino
28th Public Affairs Detachment
LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq — Just outside of LSA Anaconda, the end of the road is not the end of the mission for the scouts in Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-77th Armor, 1st Infantry Division, they dismount and go farther.
"[Insurgents] have a lot of [weapons] out there and the only way to find it is to get on the ground, walk around and get aggressive in their fields," said Sgt. Matthew Merrill. "We went on the offensive instead of the defensive."
The unit's efforts have uncovered 11 different weapons caches in their sector.
"My guys spend a lot of time dismounted, searching orchards," said Sgt. 1st Class Eric Sanders, HHC platoon sergeant. "This one platoon has found more [weapons] caches than the entire task force combined."
The Soldiers use a combination of sharp eyes, keen senses and diligent searching techniques to uncover the caches, but there is one method they've never been able to use.
"We've had no informants," Merrill said.
Despite having no informants, their own abilities have made the unit successful. The unit has it's own bloodhound of sorts, a Soldier who has the ability to recognize possible cache locations.
"It's uncanny about (Pfc. Brent Hamilton), he just knows where to go," said Sgt. Matthew Commins. "A lot of places he goes, through thick brush and stuff, no one else would think to. He just finds [weapons caches]."
Hamilton is modest about his talent.
"I don't know how I do it," he said. "I just go out there and beat the brush."
By beating the brush, the platoon maneuvers around terrain, frequently finding themselves in hard to reach locations.
"Rarely do they bury the [weapons] out in the open," Sanders said. "They're always buried in orchards or brush."
Merrill said that they really started uncovering hidden caches of weapons when they started moving away from houses and started investigating the fields and countryside. Going out and digging in the field also presents problems when they are uncovering the insurgents' weapons.
"There are people in the area that have signals to the other insurgents when they see we are getting near [the weapons]," Commins said.
Sometimes, the situation escalates in an attempt by insurgents to confuse and sabotage the missions.
"Once we get closer to a cache, they'll start shooting rounds to distract us," Sanders said.
Determined militants do not stop at distracting the Soldiers either.
"After we find a cache, they'll also set up (improvised explosive devices) on the exit routes, trying to kill us that way," Merrill said.
For the scouts, there is nothing but awareness for the daily danger they face.
"We take our job seriously," Sanders said. "It's our lives on the line everyday when we go out that gate."
The unit is a team and everyone brings something of value to their mission, a move that has paid off in the success in their mission.
"A lot of lower ranking Soldiers have a lot of leeway. Their opinion matters, pays off and their thoughts get listened to," Commins said. "Some of our caches have been found because they said 'I want to go look at this area.'"
Listening to the thoughts of the junior enlisted is one of the ways that the platoon leader, 1st Lt. Daniel Cellucci, has improved the platoon.
"Since (Cellucci) has taken over, [unit] morale has gone up and we've found a lot of caches," Sanders said. "He's been a positive influence on the platoon."
As the number of successful missions continues to grow, so has the willingness of the Soldiers to risk their lives to complete them.
"As a platoon, finding caches keeps our morale high and keeps us going," Merrill said. "We get a lot more motivated when we find caches. Guys will volunteer to go out [and search]."
For all of their successes, the platoon has faced it's share of tragedy as well. Two Soldiers have been wounded in the mission; one from a landmine and the other from an ambush. Despite their injuries, Sanders said both Soldiers are doing well.
"Our platoon has been through a lot since we've been here," he said. "It's a good day when we come out of a firefight unharmed."
The trials and tribulations of the platoon have a direct affect on the safety of the post.
"We've probably stopped over 400 rounds from hitting LSA Anaconda," Merrill said. "In the last two caches alone, we've found over 500 rounds. In one, there was over 300 rounds."
The platoon was told to be on higher alert and expect attacks to increase during the month of Ramadan but through their efforts, they found caches that helped prevent that, Sanders said.
For the scouts, it's easier to protect the post by preventing weapons from staying in the insurgents' hands than catching them in the act setting off or detonating them.
"It's hard to catch them shooting rounds because they use timers [to launch the rounds]," Merrill said. "Sometimes you'll be out there searching an area and a rocket will go off a few hundred meters away. There's nothing you can do about it because nobody is there."
This does not deter the scouts but only increases their efforts and reasons for being outside the wire. Dismounted from their vehicles, they go the extra mile, beyond the end of the road, to defend the post.
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Pfc. Brian Healy stands guard during a stop in the middle of a patrol on the outskirts of a local village near LSA Anaconda. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Abel Trevino, 28th Public Affairs Detachment)
(LOGISTICS SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq) - Cpl. Mike King, 1st Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, the sister unit to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor,1st Infantry Division secures a perimeter while Pfc. Brian Healy and Staff Sgt. Jamie Goheens, check locations for weapons caches. The Soldiers use grid coordinates, metal detectors and shovels to locate and uncover weapons caches. (Photo by Pfc. Abel Trevino, 28th Public Affairs Detachment)