NUBAI, Iraq - A platoon of Pennsylvania Army National Guard Soldiers played a support role in an Iraqi Army-led, battalion-level search for weapons caches near Nubai, north of Baghdad, June 16. The search of several areas discovered no caches but achieved another level of success for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team's 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment and the unit's IA partners.

"This is actually the first time the Iraqi Army as a brigade has planned a mission and executed on a battalion level," said Capt. John Mance of Norristown, Pa., commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1-111th. "This is a first for their division and their brigade."

Soldiers from the 56th SBCT's 856th Engineer Company joined the HHC, 1-111th for the mission. Engineers and IA Soldiers together swept several large areas with metal detectors as a military working dog and handler zig-zagged across fields and along canals.

The 56th SBCT Soldiers linked up with the IA unit near Nubai, northwest of Camp Taji, in the early morning hours. IA Soldiers had already begun searching a field adjacent an IA checkpoint as the HHC Soldiers rolled up in their Strykers.

"It's a clearing operation. They are in the lead," Mance said. "Our mission is follow and support the 2-36th [2nd Battalion, 36th Brigade] IA in that clearance operation."

Mance said the purpose of the operation was to "erode insurgent resources." One Soldier said the brigades' work of searching miles of terrain day after day pays off by depriving insurgents of explosives.

"Personally I think finding weapons caches is why we haven't been messed with; we've hardly been hit," Pfc. Harry Gill, Doylestown, with the 856th, said. "I think what we're doing is really critical."

Gill, who works as a stone mason in Pennsylvania, said he also believes efforts to examine improvised explosive devices when they're found and to use Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, for tracking a person's biometric information, has improved security.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Bentley of York, a squad leader with the 856th said engineers routinely link up with the brigade's infantry units to provide sensitive metal detectors for searches - a job Soldiers refer to as "sweeping the floor."

Bentley, a communications and sign language interpretation major at Bloomsburg University, deployed to Iraq with the 28th Infantry Division's Taskforce Dragoon in 2004-2005. In that tour he was attached to a Pa. Guard infantry company as an engineer to assist with route clearance operations and mortar firing. This time around, he's showing younger Soldiers the importance of conducting searches for caches despite most searches turning up no explosives.

"It's a lot quieter now. With all the new agreements, it's different," Bentley said of months of decreased violence and a partnership with an improving Iraqi security force.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16