Old Hickory Soldiers sweep palm grove for weapons caches
June 23, 2009
BAGHDAD - A line of Soldiers stretches ahead as if they're preparing for a wave assault along the width of an immense palm grove tucked between a highway and the Tigris River. It's morning but the sun is already beating down as the Soldiers prepare to enter a wall of vegetation.
Military vehicles kicked up dust and helicopters beat the treetops from above as the Soldiers invaded the palm grove in an aggressive effort by the North Carolina National Guardsmen of the 30th "Old Hickory" Brigade Combat Team to search for weapons caches near the Doura neighborhood, here, June 13.
"Insurgents like to hide caches and pre-wired EFPs [explosively formed penetrators] in palm groves so all they have to do is pick'em up and plug'em in and set'em up in town," said Staff Sgt. John Perry, a squad leader assigned to Company A, 252nd Combined Arms Battalion, 30th HBCT.
Once the Old Hickory Soldiers and their Iraqi National Police partners entered the palm grove, they fanned out and swept through thick underbrush along a rutted landscape. The effort was conducted to discourage insurgents from using the palm grove as a hiding place for weapons.
"We're trying to find caches so they can't go out there and hide weapons and then hit us with them," said Spc. William Felts of Mount Airy, N.C., an infantryman assigned to A Co., 252nd CAB, 30th HBCT.
Soldiers penetrating the palm grove soon found themselves neck-deep in brush and briers. The sound of radios crackled through the vegetation as the line of Soldiers soon lost sight of one another. Though out of sight, no Soldier was ever out of mind.
"In a sense it brought everybody closer together as a team because it made everybody check on each other, making sure everybody was hydrated," said Pfc. Larry Schafer of Leland, N.C., an infantryman also assigned to Co. A, 252nd CAB, 30th HBCT.
Other mission factors Perry said helped strengthen his Soldiers were navigation, communication, weapons discipline and endurance in the heat and rough terrain.
"It makes them more mentally tough. My point of view is the more they go out, the more they can handle it and the more they expect what's out there," said Perry, a native of Williamston, N.C. "It was kind of challenging and I think we did real well."
As the Soldiers trudged through the dense vegetaion, they gradually emerged on the other side of the grove, near the banks of the Tigris River. Each Soldier pulled security while waiting for their comrades to make it out of the palm grove.
Spc. Juan Gonzalez, a sniper from Asheville, N.C., said searches like the one in the palm grove make the neighborhood safer for everyone - Soldiers and the Iraqis.
"Their kids can at least go in their backyard because it's safe. The insurgents see us combing these places and hopefully won't come back," said Gonzalez, who is assigned to Co. A, 252nd CAB, 30th HBCT.
Though no weapons were found, the sight of Soldiers and the IP forcing their way through dense brush, alert and watchful, will mark the huge palm grove as one more place where insurgents can't claim ground.