Southern Iraq -- Marines from Task Force Yankee patrolling southeast of Baghdad uncovered several hidden weapons caches April 19.
A 22-Marine patrol was traveling to inspect the integrity of a bridge spanning the Tigris River when they noticed several Iraqi civilians carrying empty ammunition crates.
"On the way to our first objective we noticed people carrying military type ammunition crates," said Capt. Paul Ghiozzi, patrol leader, TFY and a Searsdale, NY native. "I got together with the intelligence officer and we decided to check it out."
The convoy quickly made a U-turn and headed back to investigate.
"Once we began down a dirt road we encountered several locals who were scavenging the area for the crates," Ghiozzi said. "We began to talk with them through a military interpreter and they gave us information where we could locate the ammo."
After investigating the locations the locals had pointed out, the patrol found several trenches full of thousands of unexploded ordnance shells.
"Our course of action was to document the location and to take pictures of the ordnance for our forces to destroy later," said LtCol. Andrew Mellon, intelligence officer, TFY and a Rossville, Ill. native. "Another concern was the Iraqi people are unfamiliar with how to deal with unexploded ordnance. When they were getting the wooden crates out of the pile they were putting themselves and their children in danger."
The sight was a fascinating scene for one Marine, who is on his second deployment to the Middle East.
"When we got there the locals were taking the crates and dumping out the rounds," said Cpl. James Dunning, network administrator, TFY and a Salem, Oregon native. "It surprised me they were just tossing the rounds and digging through them, probably not realizing how dangerous it was."
The Marines quickly used the military interpreter to communicate to the civilians the dangers associated with unexploded ordnance and that it shouldn't be handled, possibly saving lives.
The patrol continued to search the area and kept dialogue going with the locals.
"The locals told us they were only interested in taking the wooden crates, they were happy we were going to do something with the unexploded ordnance," Ghiozzi said. "We began talking with a few more people standing around there and they began telling us they were afraid of some missiles that were nearby. So we asked them to take us there."
The patrol was lead into a field about 300 meters away from a school where eight air to surface missiles, some still in their wooden shipping crates, were just laying about.
"The patrol followed an Iraqi who rode his bicycle down the highway and turned onto a dirt road," Ghiozzi said. "We proceeded with caution, but once we turned the corner and saw the missiles, I had a huge adrenaline rush.
"We secured the area and began to search the vicinity of the missiles," Ghiozzi said. "The locals who were helping us were very cooperative; their main concern was getting rid of the missiles, which were in close proximity to a school."
The Marines gathered as much information as they could about the munitions and radioed the coordinates in to higher headquarters so the weapons could be destroyed later.
The Marines then continued on their patrol, finding even more destructive devices that the now extinct Iraqi military dumped or hid during the war.
"This patrol is similar to the patrols Marines all over Iraq are conducting," said Col. Anthony M. Haslam, commanding officer, Task Force Yankee. "The discovery and destruction of the numerous weapons caches will help in the process to secure a safe environment and future for the Iraqi people."