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Sather Airmen destroy weapons cache

by Senior Master Sgt. Trish Freeland
Air Forces Central Baghdad media outreach

12/23/2008 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq (AFNS) -- Sather Air Base Airmen destroyed one of the larger enemy weapons caches to be collected at one time in the Iraq theater of operations.

Four three-person 447th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight teams destroyed the 13,000-pound weapons cache discovered by Iraqi army members.

"It was a six-day operation and we collected 13,000 pounds in explosive weight," said Airman 1st Class Derrick Torba of the 447th ECES EOD Flight. "My team destroyed 3,000 pounds of that cache. The other three teams destroyed the rest.

"The Iraqi army discovered it," said Airman Torba, deployed from the 99th Civil Engineer Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. "There were two rival clans that were turning in each other's explosives and caches."

The Iraqi soldiers notified their American Army counterparts who contacted the Sather AB EOD flight.

"We don't get a lot of information about where this stuff is coming from," said Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Wasik, an EOD team chief and reservist who hails from Glendale, Ariz.

"Usually when we get a call about a cache, the Iraqis have already moved it from its original location to their equivalent of a forward operating base or outpost. We'll go in and collect what we need and then transport it out to be disposed of," Sergeant Wasik said.

The cache consisted of projectiles, rockets, homemade explosive propellant and various other items that could be used to make improvised explosive devices. After identifying each ordnance and ensuring the load was safe to transport, the Airmen took the cache to a demolition site and destroyed it through controlled detonation.

Airman Torba, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., is an apprentice technician in five-level upgrade training. He's been in the Air Force for two years, and working in EOD for just one full year. He is partnered with Sergeant Wasik and Staff Sgt. Michael Breive, a five-year veteran, deployed from Seymour-Johnson AFB, N.C.

"A 13,000-pound cache doesn't come around often in this area," Sergeant Breive said. "I've handled caches in the past that had high-intelligence value, but in terms of explosive weight and number of rounds this was the biggest."

Sergeant Breive, a native of Palmyra, Pa., is on his third deployment to Baghdad and knows the area and the tactics well. His past experience gives his team an advantage.

"I know the historical hot spots, how we did things in past operations and how we can apply it to what's being done now," he said. "I know the robotics platform being used here, and it's one that's not used in the States so I can share that knowledge with them."

Things are drastically different from Sergeant Breive's last trip to Iraq. The security situation in Iraq has improved so much that the operations tempo is noticeably slower. There are fewer incidents of indirect fire and more interaction with host-nation counterparts.

"We used to get three to four calls a day. Now we're down to a few calls a week," Sergeant Breive said. "We also work more closely with Iraqi forces now. They're integrated into the operation more, and we step aside and let them handle things more often."

As first deployments go, this one has already been a valuable and memorable experience for Airman Torba.

"It's been a very rewarding job so far," he said. "As far as that cache goes, it was all stuff they could use to make IEDs, so us getting rid of it means they don't have the tools they need to use against us."

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