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Platoon perfects art of locating weapons caches

By Sgt. Dallas Walker

BALAD, Iraq (Army News Service, Dec. 22, 2005) – A unique group of Soldiers are reeling in weapons caches and improvised explosive devices from the streets of Balad … They were the last platoon from their company to start doing patrols.

Composed of cooks, communication specialists, medics and a couple of infantry guys, the Soldiers of the Cobra Black One platoon, Company C, 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment initially took to the streets outside of Logistical Support Area Anaconda with not much of a mission.

“We were like the black sheep of the battalion,” said Sgt. Alika Naluai, Co. C section leader. “We would just sit on a route and pull security.”

After a couple of weeks, someone gave them an idea – one they weren’t thrilled about in the beginning, but ended up paying off in the long run.

Master Sgt. Beau Tatsumura from training and operations, helped show the platoon the ropes of hunting for weapons caches.

“He really motivated and encouraged us to go out and find weapons caches,” Naluai said. “We figured we’d give it a try.”

Early efforts unsuccessful

The platoon spent several weeks searching, but to no avail.

“We really hated doing cache searching at first because we had no method,” said Spc. McHuy McCoy, Cobra Black One medic. “The team would go out and find nothing.”

They ended up getting advice from 1st Lt. Ranjan Singh, Co. B platoon leader, Naluai said. His platoon had led the battalion in caches found at that point.

Singh’s platoon started out much like Cobra Black One did – unsuccessful.

“We decided we needed a system,” Singh said. “One day, we were out on patrol and we saw something we thought could be used to mark an area for future reference. We saw a pile of brush near the marking. When we moved it, we found a mortar tube.”

From that point on, they looked for areas with similar markings and soft dirt, Singh said. “We didn’t have mine sweepers at the time, so we would look for soft dirt and stab at the ground with bayonets.”

From April to June, Singh’s platoon found 44 weapons caches.

“It kicked off a cache craze,” Singh said. “Everyone wanted to check out a mine sweeper and look. Of course, they found nothing because they didn’t know what to look for.”

Singh and his Soldiers changed missions to finding high value individuals, so he decided to share his secret to finding caches with the Soldiers of Cobra Black One.

New training pays off

“Sergeant Naluai and 1st Lt. [Sam] Tagavilla came over the radio one day and said they thought they found something,” McCoy said, who was pulling security at the time. “Everyone got excited and waited by the radio to hear what was going on. Then they pulled out their first mortar.”

According to Naluai, there were 49 mortar rounds in that first cache – 30 60mm rounds and 19 82mm rounds.

“After that, we were hooked,” Naluai said. “We would sit on a route pulling security and decide to search a canal road.”

Since that first find in July, the platoon has found 37 caches.

“After we started to find the caches, our status has risen among our peers and our command,” Naluai said.

Finding caches has become like second nature to the Cobra Black One Soldiers. It is the main focus of their daily mission, McCoy said.

“We find scrap metal all the time,” McCoy said. “All day, you long for a cache. Finally, you hit something and you hear that clunk. Now you have to dig a little more [carefully]. Eventually, you find that burlap bag. Everyone comes and waits with anticipation to see what’s in the bag, and then it comes across the radio, ‘Cobra black has done it again!’”

The platoon has become so successful at finding caches, they share the tactics, techniques and procedures they have developed on finding weapons caches with other platoons, including the one who helped them get started.

“It’s beginning to work because elements who have never found a weapons cache before are beginning to find them,” McCoy said.

Persistence bares fruit

“For us, it’s exciting. It’s like a treasure hunt. It made us feel like we were contributing to this war,” Naluai said. “That makes less ammunition on the streets and less improvised explosive devices that can be made.”

“It’s hard work,” Naluai added. “This is the glory of cache hunting. Sometimes you get it. Sometimes you don’t. You have to be self motivated. It’s a job with no glory. I guess the trick to success is to think like [the enemy]. You have to learn to read the land.”

The team has found that not every mission will be one where they return with a large stash of weapons, but every mission is one where they make their presence known in the villages they patrol.

“I can truly say it has reduced enemy activity in our area tremendously,” McCoy said. “We are coming from a point where we were dealing with [a lot of] IED attacks a week, and now the number of attacks has decreased tremendously.”

On more than one occasion, the platoon has come across a site that was freshly dug up, indicating they are putting pressure on the enemy to move their activity, McCoy said.

Starting off their deployment as the “black sheep” platoon, with a mix of military occupational specialties, the Soldiers of Cobra Black One have made their time in Iraq invaluable to many.

“Being a medic, this job is far from what I thought it would be,” McCoy said. “I’m okay with it because we have cooks driving and we have commo guys gunning. This war is different. As a medic, taking IEDs off the street, I am still saving lives, just in a different way. To me, that’s satisfying enough.”

(Editor’s note; Sgt. Dallas Walker serves with the 101st Airborne Division Public Affairs Office.)

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