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Task Force 1-77 Finds 1st Big Cache
By Steve Liewer
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 15, 2004,

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 them.

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 expression."

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 destruction.

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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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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