Spc. Chris McCann
2nd BCT PAO, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI)
STRONG POINT 142, Iraq – Soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, attached to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) made a careful entry into a Muslim cemetery near the former Qaqaa Water Treatment Facility on the banks of Iraq’s Euphrates River Jan. 12 to search for weapons caches.
The Soldiers, who had been told by local Iraqi residents that terrorists used the cemetery for caching weapons, skirted the area on a reconnaissance mission the night before, burning reeds along the roads to hinder placement of improvised explosive devices and ensuring that the area was clear.
At first light the next morning, the Soldiers of the 2/5 set out with four Iraqi Army soldiers, wading through canals and across muddy fields to enter the cemetery.
“Don’t step on any graves,” said Company A commander Capt. Richard Ince of Georgetown, Texas, as Soldiers began moving in.
Two Soldiers had mine detectors and scanned suspicious-looking areas as other troops moved among the graves, careful not to step on them. Many graves were elaborately protected with concrete or stone covers, but most were simply raised mounds of earth, marked with wedges of palm wood or chunks of stone.
“It was awesome,” said Spc. Matthew Fitzpatrick, a native of Philadelphia, Penn., and a rifleman with the company. “We’ve never been through a graveyard looking for caches.”
No caches were recovered, although several tank sabot rounds were recovered from various places.
“We really didn’t find everything we wanted,” said Sgt. James Farris, a native of Tullahoma, Tenn., and a rifleman with A Co. “But we did find things that might have benefited the anti-Iraqi forces and interrupted our movement.”
Ince had an idea as to why caches weren’t found – that weapons are hidden there on a very short-term basis only for quick pick-up by other terrorists.
“The source reports we had indicated that terrorists were using the cemetery as a strategic cache location. Based on our joint mission with the Iraqi Army, we confirmed that that wasn’t the case. However, we do believe that they may be using the area as a tactical cache with which to stage attacks on coalition forces.”
“It’s always good when we’re working with the IA,” Ince said. “They’re good guys and motivated to patrol. They’re very much a help. The Iraqi army soldiers are our most valuable asset and combat force multiplier.”
Operations in areas like cemeteries are delicate, due to the emotional and religious overtones, but they can be critically important if terrorists are using them as staging areas.
“I felt we were respectful of the Iraqi graves,” said Spc. Brian Smith of Denver, Colo., a civil affairs Soldier with Co. B, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd BCT, who works with the 2/5 Cavalry. “It was kind of an uncomfortable situation, but we were respectful.”