ALBU SHUKUR, Iraq — In a shady orchard, along a rutted country lane, the men
of "Charlie Rock" did a little digging and discovered weapons meant to kill
The haul included a Russian-made machine gun, 146 mortar rounds, detonating
cord, bomb-making materials and rocket-propelled grenade heads.
It was found about three miles from Logistical Support Area Anaconda — the
former Balad Air Base — home to some 15,000 U.S. troops and the target of
frequent mortar attacks.
"They were definitely firing mortars out of this field," said Capt. Matthew
Archambault, commander of Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry
Regiment, also known as "Charlie Rock."
"We hit a real payload here."
"It's some scary stuff," said Spc. Julio Pacheco, 21, of Laredo, Texas, a
part of the platoon that discovered some of the weapons.
The discovery of weapons caches is an everyday occurrence in
Iraq, of course. But this one boosted the troops' spirits because it was the first big discovery
for a unit from the 1st Infantry Division's Task Force 1-77, which just took
control of the Balad area from the 4th Infantry Division last week.
"It's good for motivation, gets them focused on the fact that this is real
combat," Archambault said. "This is what we're here for."
An Iraqi tipster alerted soldiers in the area about noon Thursday, and within
two hours Charlie Company had been dispatched in their Bradley fighting
vehicles to Albu Shukur. Although Balad, a Shiite city of 170,000 near
Anaconda, is relatively peaceful and welcoming to U.S. troops, Sunni villages
such as Albu Shukur that surround it have been more troublesome.
"I haven't seen anyone try to be hostile or aggressive, [but] it's kind of
tense," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Frey, 34, of Trenton, Mo. "The kids will try
to come up and see what you're doing. The adults stand off and watch with no
Soldiers found the mortar rounds in the orchard, about 50 feet from a house.
They arrested the owner and put the cache under guard. Archambault notified
members of the 749th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company at Anaconda.
The next morning, the unit searched nearby fields. In one orchard, some
soldiers — including Pacheco, Sgt. Christopher Cunningham and Sgt. Joel
McKinley, 23, of Louisville, Ky. — spotted something that looked like the
base-plate impression of a mortar launcher.
They noticed some loose dirt nearby, McKinley said, and called over a
minesweeper — Spc. Konyaku Kaili, 21, of Hilo, Hawaii — to check out the area.
His detector went off.
The soldiers dug down and found a 55-gallon drum covered with tire tread.
Inside they found the machine gun, some rocket-propelled grenades, detonating
cord and bomb-making devices such as a car alarm and a motorcycle battery.
A translator came to Charlie Company's camp, Forward Operating Base Paliwoda,
to help clear local residents from nearby houses while soldiers prepared to
destroy part of the cache in the orchard. The mortar rounds, deemed too
dangerous to explode so close to homes, were trucked to Anaconda for
The men of "Charlie Rock" savored the boom of the exploding cache.
"It's nice, because we know we saved lives," said Cunningham, 26, of Auburn,
Nebr. "The IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and RPGs (rocket-propelled
grenades) are meant for American soldiers."
— Steve Liewer is an embedded journalist with Task Force 1-77.
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